DETAIL : Jimmy BAKER 'Katatjita' 2006 synthetic polymer paint on canvas, Courtesy of Marshall Arts Aboriginal Fine Art Gallery, � Jimmy Baker
Christopher PEASE | Swan River 50 miles up

PEASE, Christopher
Australia 1969
Swan River 50 miles up 2006
oil on canvas
100.0 (h) x 143.0 (w) cm
Courtesy of Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth

When we were younger, the cousins would spend many of our days together – after school, on weekends – playing games that we made up. Chris’s creative mind would always come up with the most ingenious diversions for kids with nothing else to do. There was always something quirky in the way that the game would unfold, some imaginative element introduced. The games never lacked structure; they may have been creative and fantastic, but they were organised in strangely logical ways that made sense to us all. As we grew older, sadly, we stopped playing as many games as we used to. Later though, when Chris was studying at Perth TAFE, he drew constantly, in charcoal or pencil, and he would draw incredible creatures, things from his imagination that were neither scary nor approachable but something in between. In the worlds in which these creatures existed there was, again, a strange logic.

To this day, Chris’s artistic practice reflects his natural sensibilities. In his work he does not impose order, but seeks to extract the natural order of things, no matter how tangled or absurd. His creative eye sees logic in the most illogical of circumstances and situations. His elegant painting style makes sense of and contains the dream-like environments his subjects often inhabit. It is this self-contained world-within-worlds approach that makes Chris’s work unique. Like him it seeks a balance between science, logic and the deep underlying mysticism that is part of his cultural heritage. The two are not in conflict but co-exist and feed each other.

In the case of Wrong side of the Hay 2005, the spiritual and the actual combine, with the ancestral story-lines of the land brought to life in a ghostly shimmer over the length of the painting. The two men depicted in the work are unaware of the framework of spiritual inheritance embodied within the land, which is the birthright of every Indigenous person, depicted by the artist as unbroken curves over the horizon. We are reminded of Indigenous reality as the orderliness of the European-style landscape is interrupted by this Dreaming motif.

The artist has conducted research on the iconography of the Nyoongar, the Indigenous people of south-west Western Australia, and it is versions of these motifs and signifiers that make their way into his work. In Swan River 50 miles up 2006 Chris references how colonisers see Indigenous people in the same way that they viewed the flora and fauna of the new country: able to be scientifically categorised and de-contextualised. They saw the land as there for their exclusive use, to be sectioned, partitioned and sold off in lots, irrespective of prior claim.

Target 2005 is more sinister – the symbol of the target is used to communicate the idea that not only Indigenous people but the land itself at the time of settlement in Australia was the target of greed, ignorance and, as represented by the single Indigenous female figure in the work, lust.

New Water Dreaming 2005 directly references a lithograph produced by Louis Auguste de Sainson, who was the appointed draughtsman on the Astrolabe, commanded by Dumont d’Urville. It depicts an area within King George Sound, in the south-west of Western Australia, with members of the d’Urville expedition loading water onto one of the ship’s longboats.

Interaction between the crew and the Minang people[1] – Chris’s people – is portrayed as positive, with several individuals helping to load the water. The diagram over the work points to the Europeans’ ways of thinking about obtaining water, which
were new and different for the Minang people. Scientific thinking began to create structure in an environment that, to the newcomers, had no structure. The depiction of colonisers attempting to impose order on an unruly environment reflects the artist’s fascination with the struggle between science and logic and less structured systems, and it is the tension between the two that creates the distinctive dialogue in Pease’s work.

Clotilde Bullen


[1] The Minang are members of the Nyoongar people from a particular part of the south-west of Western Australia.