Bella Kelly Retrospective exhibition on at John Curtin Gallery until August 21

Bella Kelly Retrospective exhibition on at John Curtin Gallery until August 21
Bella Kelly Retrospective exhibition on at John Curtin Gallery until August 21
Bella Kelly Retrospective exhibition on at John Curtin Gallery until August 21

THE John Curtin Gallery presents a significant survey exhibition of work by revered Nyoongar artist Bella Kelly (1915–1994) from June 20 until August 21.

Following its premiere at the Vancouver Arts Centre in Albany, the Bella Kelly Retrospective touring exhibition will give Perth audiences the opportunity to view an assemblage of paintings that have been loaned from public and private collections.

The exhibition includes artworks from the 1950s to late 1980s and visual references of supporting materials from the 1940s.

Together, spanning five decades, they show the development of her style as new materials became available to her.

Curator Annette Davis, from the Vancouver Arts Centre, Albany, said the Bella Kelly Retrospective made a new and important statement about her place in history and aimed to establish Bella Kelly’s significance in terms of the distinctive Carrolup style.

Bella Kelly’s art has previously been described as being influenced by the artwork created at the Carrolup State School located within the Carrolup Native Settlement near Katanning in South West WA.

It was there that Aboriginal children from the Stolen Generations created hundreds of drawings, many depicting the country around them between 1946 and 1950.

These earliest ‘Carrolup’ artworks have been referred to historically as germinating what has been described as the Carrolup School more like an art style; not to be confused with the actual Carrolup State School, run just like any other school by the Education Department but uniquely located within a Government administered Native Settlement.

John Curtin Gallery Director Chris Malcolm said the retrospective would give visitors the opportunity to consider this notion.

“With more research, it is hoped the proposition will be further clarified in due course to give credit to all these important Noongar artists and better understand the complex interrelations between artists across several generations,” Mr Malcolm said.

Born in Mt Barker, Bella Kelly lived in many towns throughout the Great Southern.

During her life she experienced immense change. Her two sets of four children, born in the 1930s and 1950s, were both taken away from her, the earlier children being sent to the Carrolup Native Settlement in the 1940s.

An art work by one of her sons, Gregory, is in The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artwork, a collection of 122 drawings created by children of the Stolen Generations detained at the Settlement between 1946 and 1951 that are now held in the Curtin University Art Collection.

Kelly painted her country, the Great Southern, with the Stirling Ranges in the background. She sold her paintings to earn money and her paintings are found in many public and private collections.

Most of the works in the Retrospective were directly purchased from Bella herself and depict the Stirling Ranges and southwest landscape.

Ms Davis says the exhibition celebrates Bella Kelly’s creative passion, resourcefulness and resilience through an era of immense hardship and change.

“There was a huge response to last year’s call-out by the Vancouver Arts Centre for paintings by Bella Kelly.

I saw about 250 paintings, mostly owned by people who lived in the Great Southern and bought directly from Bella,” Ms Davis said.

“The stories that have been collected during the research have been fascinating. For the owners, their Bella Kelly painting is a treasured possession which connects them to their family history in rural Western Australia.”

The City of Albany Art Collection’s four paintings by Bella Kelly will also be part of the exhibition.

Bella Kelly’s two surviving daughters, Cheryl and Caroline Narkle, are artists themselves and paint at the Mungart Boodja Art Centre, Albany. They were inspired by their mother, who they describe as a role model to them and many other Noongar artists.

After the John Curtin Gallery, the exhibition will travel to the NEXIS Exhibition Space in Narrogin from September 9 to October 16.