‘I miss my brother’: leading Kimberley artist dies – Sydney Morning Herald

Kavanagh said Peters’ palette of traditional red and yellow ochres and black charcoal reflected the style of the East Kimberley school. Intricate curves, mapping of “country”, and dark caves and rivers were particular to Peters’ work.

Peters’ sister is the revered Gija artist Mabel Juli. “They had a customary relationship of avoidance in that they didn’t speak to one another but saw each other every day and worked closely together at the arts centre,” Kavanagh said.

Three nyawana in Yarini country, 2012. Credit:Nancy Sever Gallery

Juli paid tribute to her brother’s role as an educator passing on culture and language to the next generation. “He the main one for this place, look after all the kids, working all day ’til that Art Centre we come. He was the main one, jarrag Gija [speaking Gija] all day, tell ’em ’bout story, you know, all the kids.” She added, “I miss my brother.”

The Sydney Morning Herald‘s art critic John McDonald said Peters, who was never seen without his stockman’s hat, was one of a distinguished generation of Kimberley artists.

“He arrived on the scene as a painter a little later than [other Indigenous] figures,but his work was immediately successful,” McDonald said. “His theme was the perennial one of the land.

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“His style of painting bore a family relationship with other artists from the Warmun region, but with a marked individuality and self-confidence. This came through in his willingness to tackle large-scale compositions that exerted a spell on major public and private collectors.”

Peters got together with other Gija elders to found the Warmun Art Centre in 1998 with the aim of promoting, supporting and maintaining Gija art, language and culture. He went by the bush name Dirrji, a reference to dingo pups looking out of a hole at sunrise.

In his youth, Peters worked as a stockman on cattle stations. Following the death of his father in a tragic riding accident, his family moved to Mabel Downs and it was here that Peters came to earn his reputation as a renowned horse breaker.

“He was one of the last senior lawmen in the Kimberley,” Kavanagh said.

Peters’ work appeared in the 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial at the National Gallery of Australia in 2017, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as Australians for the first time.

For that exhibition, Peters had disclosed he had taken up painting after watching his brother and uncle. “That’s when I started to paint my country,” he said. “I didn’t want to paint someone else’s country, I might get sick. I paint for my mother and grandfather’s country.”

A painting started by Peters to assist the campaign to protect sites of cultural significance from mining was half complete at the time of his death. “Mabel would like to see her son-in-law complete the canvas so they can continue the fight to keep their land safe,” Kavanagh said.

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