On Sunday the family would go out fishing in the swamps that ran off the River Murray we would catch catfish and with the catfish Mum would do a good curry soup, 2004
acrylic on linen
Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
Private collection, Brisbane
Born under a gum tree at Swan Reach on the River Murray in 1947, Ian Abdulla's life was intrinsically linked to the river. In this joyful painting "On Sunday the family would go out fishing in the swamps that ran off the River Murray we would catch catfish and with the catfish Mum would do a good curry soup" (2004) Abdulla depicts this life lived on the land.
Painted with an electric palette of acrylic on linen, Abdulla's signature naive style is held in a compelling tension with the artist's wisdom and experience. Combining his images with a single sentence of text, Abdulla makes explicit the autobiographical nature of his practice. Having started his art career at age 41 he was uninterested in painting his contemporary surrounds, instead turning his attention to remembered images of a time past. Here the artist offers a vision of his family - he was one of eleven children - in harmony with nature as they fish for food on the swampy bank of the river. There is an astonishing attention to detail in this work, and even the most minute of brushstrokes unlock clues to this story; the way that the tiny figures wield their fishing lines, or the downturned beaks of the pelicans as they too fish for food beneath the water's surface.
"Well, all I want to be seen as is a quiet lad, interesting and someone who knows about history along the river, the way I grew up and about family and things like that" - Ian Abdulla
Ian Abdulla was an indigenous Australian painter, storyteller and history-maker. Combining text and images on canvas, his detailed brushstrokes painted a picture of his family's life along the Murray River.
When the artist died at age 63, he left an enormously significant cultural legacy of paintings, which are a record of his extraordinary talent as an artist, as well as his community's way of life. Abdulla grew up on the Murray and later spent 10 years on the Gerard Aboriginal Mission. As an adult he worked as a builder's labourer and with the Parks and Wildlife Service, before turning to art in 1988 when he attended a silk-screen printing course. In 1991 Abdulla was awarded South Australian Aboriginal Artist of the Year and over the years was shortlisted for 8 NATSIA Awards, winning for Best Painting in 1996. Astonishingly, in his relatively brief 23 year career he mounted 32 national and international solo shows, and is held in nearly every major public art collection around Australia. He is one of only four Australian artists to be included in the collection of the British Museum.