Sally Gabori & Holbein’s Skull

‘Viewpoint’ Image & Text Helen Read
Placing a foot on Bentinck Island way South East of Arnhem Land, into the Gulf of Carpentaria, we arrived by small aeroplane to visit Sally Gabori. It was intriguing to see the coastline suddenly wrap itself closely about us. From the air Sally’s island had looked small yes, but not so small that the land should shrink from view like this.

It made me think of Ms. Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori’s paintings, conceived on this isle of close by coasts. I wondered at the painter’s aerial and lateral viewpoints and later stood to the side of her painting; Ms. Gabori being one of the few Indigenous artists I know who enjoys to stand up and paint; her artwork in the vertical position, leaning against a wall I see. Her country struck me as like Holbein’s skull in The Ambassadors, picture below:


You know how you walk to the edge of Holbein’s painting, look across from it’s perimeter and what had been obscure leaps into clarity?; in this case a 3D skull. From the side, I saw Sally Gabori’s country leap into realism.

As natural in mastery of painting as sighing at another day’s work, Ms Gabori’s land-seascapes bubble with bright, serious colour. Feeling the power and joy in her artwork, discovering her various viewpoints, Ms. Gabori’s paintings were already winging their way out into the increasing gasps of appreciators.

There is an exhibition of our now sadly passed Ms Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori’s paintings showing at the NGV until 29th January 2017. Like so many, I enjoy looking at and feeling Ms. Gabori’s soul-marked, anamorphic paintings, from all angles. But seeing from the edge, I am back, placing a foot on her island.

This article first appeared on 11th December 2016.

Helen Read is an artist and former nurse-pilot for the Pintupi Homelands Health Service in Walungurru (Kintore), Kiwirrkurra, Gibson Desert, Central Australia.

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