Art & Lifestyle

North Queensland has over the past few decades developed into a virtual Mecca for the creative soul, having long drawn artists from varied cultural backgrounds both within Australia and beyond, captivated by the people, lifestyle and surroundings of the Far North and Pacific Islands.  Inspired by its richness and diversity, renowned artists such as Streeton, Drysdale and Whiteley have all sojourned here in the course of their impressive careers and produced significant, reflective paintings which now remain as part of their enduring legacies to the art world. Archibald Prize winner Ray Crooke, a highly respected artist, whose works have been broadly acclaimed throughout his long and auspicious career, continues to live in Cairns.

Throughout the past twenty five years the North has experienced a steady migration by talented, practising artists, who have then settled, enriching the area culturally. Many had not intended to remain in this magnificent, isolated part of the world. Occasionally they were working towards major exhibitions elsewhere. Some had travelled here temporarily, primarily for the emotional refreshment afforded an artist by the stimulus of a new and unworked environment. Other journeys, particularly by the younger artists, were often prompted by the allure of relative remoteness and exotic locations within the distant north. Sometimes subtly, sometimes instantaneously each in their own way became utterly seduced by the magic of this tropical wonderland.

Vibrance, beauty, texture and mood, and every idiosyncrasy of the local population create an abundant feast for the artists' palettes. The innocent simplicity of children playing on an idyllic, tropical beach at sunset. The mere ripple of an incoming tide as it gently laps upon a remote, sun drenched beach or the larconic characters who regularly frequent the local pubs. The brilliance of the clear, midday sunshine caressing dense, tropical foliage in ancient shadowed forests or perhaps unveiling to emerald translucency a secluded, pristine creek. With such inspirational, diverse and almost inexhaustible subject matter as their surroundings, it is little wonder that the artists' canvases radiate such liveliness, being exhilarated by the lush beauty of the natural environment.

In the 1980's, the then Upstairs Gallery of Cairns was the undisputed hub of Fine Art in the region. Nurturing and actively promoting the unique talents of the north's artistic community, it became the catalyst that burst North Queensland artists David Stacey, Wanjidari, Daryl Trott and JoAnne Hook upon both the national and international stages. During that period the gallery also established an art collective on the northern beaches of Cairns in the old Home School. Artistically interactive, while exploring their individual creative skills, the school became home to Greg Dwyer, Tania Heben, Tom MacAuley and other notable artists while in its existence.

With the arrival of the 1990's the artistic procession to the colourful north by established artists such as Ian Stephens and the late Helen Wiltshire continued. Young, talented, home grown artists Amanda Feher, Angela Meyer and others soon began to emerge as serious practitioners, their distinctive and individual styles quickly developing as they gained the attention of the local art world.

In recent years this migration of the creative has continued. Committed artists and craftspeople Claire Souter, Jeanette Sellwood and Jan Bainbridge-Perry to name a few, have chosen to take up residence here and contribute the extensive talents of the diverse, artistic enclave already blossoming within the area.

In 1984 the North Queensland College of TAFE established an Art Course designed exclusively to meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Experimental, and the first of its kind in Australia, it soon became a model for similar courses in other parts of the country with large indigenous populations. It proved particularly successful from its inception, encouraging and developing the artistic skills of many talented, young artists from North Queensland and beyond. Throughout its life, this course has become a fertile, nurturing ground for many successful artists including Wanjidari, one of the earliest graduates, upon whom the ancient cave paintings of Cape York Peninsula profoundly influenced her work. More recent graduates, members of the Lockhart River Gang include Rosella Namok, whose dynamic, contemporary works are often associated with stories about life in her isolated Aboriginal community.

More recently the Indigenous Art Centre Alliance has been established, with its home at James Cook University, to assist in the maintenance and celebration of the rich and diverse culture of FNQ Indigenous communities.   The I.A.C.A. works to support, strengthen and empower the remote community based Far North Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and culture centres.  There are currently 13 member art centres spreading across the islands of the Torres Strait, the Gulf of Carpentaria, Cape York and the tropical rainforest and coastal regions of Far North Queensland,

Situated in one of Cairns' beautiful heritage buildings, the Cairns Regional Gallery, now in its fourteenth year, also regularly exhibits contemporary works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This impressive gallery hosts selected exhibitions from major Australian and international collections. A diverse exhibition calendar, strongly focussed on promoting and stimulating the development of the visual arts in the region, alongside presenting the art of the world to Gallery visitors, means that international and national touring exhibitions feature comfortably alongside the work of local and indigenous artists.

A complex reflective on the very essence of tropical society, art in the North flourishes in all mediums and genres. The many galleries scattered throughout the region generally exhibit works by local artists and craftspeople and most have their own distinctive flavour.

Whether refreshing, vibrant, contemplative, or thought provoking, the unique art of North Queensland celebrates the spectrum and diversity of life in the northern tropics.

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