“A lot of people try to tell me what I should be painting. You’re the artist and the one who has to express it your way.”
Bradley Kickett—local Nyoongar artist—told me all about his work, his first solo exhibition, and making it in the industry as an emerging Indigenous artist.
Bradley was born in Northam, grew up in Perth and is descended from the Noongar people near York, Western Australia. When asked what inspired him to become an artist, he says it was never a conscious decision; it just happened.
“I just started painting one day. I was in a bad way; about 10 years ago I had a nervous breakdown and started painting, just for something to do.”
Bradley tells me that Indigenous art is centred around storytelling and has cultural significance for Australia’s ancient, Indigenous history. While their art has been around for as long as they have—an estimated 60,000 plus years—Nyoongar artists trying to make it in the industry nowadays find it extremely difficult, encountering many obstacles along the way.
Nyoongar artists don’t have an art centre like most other Aboriginal artists in the state—like Yamaji artists, who have the Yamaji Art Centre—so there is nowhere for them to get extra support and it is more difficult to find a gallery that will show their art. According to Bradley, the only galleries that deal with local artists are the ones that specifically target tourists, and this results in challenges to obtain wall space—especially in Perth, where gallery space is limited. Gaining freedom by acquiring an art show, as Bradley has done, is significant, and it’s something Bradley is extremely grateful for.
Bradley’s artwork is mostly influenced by Western Australia’s extraordinary terrains. He tells me that he enjoys painting regions from the south-west area, and also, in particular, water-related pieces. This is Bradley’s forte; you can see the effect of the water on the land, as interesting shapes and colours form. This is the primary inspiration, as well as the theme, for his first solo art exhibition: Binjar-Bilya-Warden.Image: An aerial painting of Point Peron and Garden Island.
Binjar-Bilya-Warden translates from Nyoongar to “lakes, rivers and oceans”. The exhibition shows the water’s journey over the land and presents a series of topographical aerial paintings, based on water systems from all over WA’s landscape.
“I’m really happy with the whole theme, it shows where I grew up and where my family comes from,” says Bradley.
Bradley’s artwork does not follow traditional Aboriginal dot paintings—he says his style is more modern and abstract. While it is a new technique, he describes it as, “a throwback to more cultural art as well.”
Bradley uses water to shape the paint in the same way that he sees the rain and rivers shaping the earth; he does this by pouring the paint in stages onto the canvas, (sometimes it can take up to five days to dry), then adding the line and dot-work as a last element.
Learning how to pour paint successfully was a matter of trial and error. Sometimes the paints would mix with each other and he wouldn’t be able to achieve the nice shades that he has seemingly perfected at present.
In the exhibition, bold colours—like bright blues and vibrant greens—contrast with light shades of brown, and the occasional pink and purple when depicting wildflowers. These work together to create truly stunning visuals of the ocean and meandering rivers.
Every painting is extremely detailed and realistic. Bradley learnt photography earlier, using his camera and drone to take photos of the land and to capture the breathtaking aerial views.
He laughs when thinking about his early works: “I didn’t know how to use a camera that well.”
Bradley stays motivated by keeping a visual diary and writing down notes and feelings when he is out exploring.
Speaking with Bradley, I really got a sense of how determined he is about pursuing art and managing his studies at the same time. I couldn’t help but admire the passion he has for his work and his strong-minded attitude towards keeping contemporary Aboriginal art alive. All the paintings showcased at his Paper Mountain exhibition were completed this year. I was amazed at how many there were and wondered where he had found the time, considering he is a second-year Curtin University student studying fine art.
Bradley’s response? It wasn’t easy:
“Leading up to the exhibition, the first couple of weeks this semester [were] a challenge, trying to balance school and make classes.”
However, Bradley has had the chance to be a part of some cool experiences while studying at Curtin. He was the guest speaker for the Vice-Chancellor at their NAIDOC event last year, and is also part of on online course that’s documenting artwork by Aboriginal artists.
Curtin is a multicultural university and has a long-standing focus on supporting and celebrating Indigenous culture. To have that encouragement and respect from the university is certainly one step in the right direction to strengthen Aboriginal art culture and empower Indigenous artists—both on campus and within the wider community.
Bradley’s paintings are truly spellbinding masterpieces. The way that Western Australian oceans, rivers, islands and beaches are depicted so evocatively in his art is intriguing.
The Western Australian Police Force seemed to think so as well, as they bought the painting Meandip Derbarlmarra—an aerial painting of Point Peron and Garden Island—and plastered it on their police cars and uniforms in the Perth metro and Wheatbelt areas. His artwork has also been featured on Today Tonight and various newspapers. Bradley will also be in an upcoming NITV documentary.Image: Police Cars, Perth Metro and the Wheatbelt.
With so many amazing achievements and opportunities behind and ahead of him, his first solo exhibition will be just one of many more to come.
For other Indigenous artists on the same path, Bradley offers this advice:
“While it’s good to learn from others, and go to shows, and see different things; you [should] still do [art] in the way you want to. Keep practicing your skills, and keep refining it, until it turns into something that is really … exceptional.”
Aboriginal art is a crucial asset to Australia, and a lot can be learned from the way these artists express themselves.
Bradley believes the importance of displaying Nyoongar art cannot be over stated. There aren’t many places that display local Nyoongar art in Nyoongar country.
This is a shame, because there are some really talented artists—both established and emerging.
Bradley says that each and every artist has an interesting and significant story to tell from a different perspective and it is important that Perth and our art community starts to recognise more of our local Aboriginal artists. And I couldn’t agree more.
Check out Bradley’s website for more information.