From 17th September to 30th October 2014
A collection of works from the late Bindi Inc artist
Billy Benn (1943-2012) was born in the Harts Range 200 km north east of Alice Springs. As a young man he worked in the local mine and learned to paint in watercolour from the Chinese wife of one of the miners. He did not begin painting in earnest however, until 2000. The influence of Chinese painting traditions on Bennâ€™s paintings can be seen in their scale and perspective, their layered colour and certain brushstrokes. Though painted with acrylics, the colours are arranged like a classic watercolour palette. These are applied as washes before thicker impasto paint is applied. Soft pinks, golden yellows, bright oranges, velvet purples and deep browns are used to create landforms and features. He whips up skys and lays down slopes and escarpments with fluid single movement as in the laying down of traditional Chinese brushstrokes. High or non-existent horizons evoke Chinese scroll paintings. Billy Bennâ€™s art has often been critically located outside of the art world category of fine art. Nicholas Rothwell was just one of many writers to refer to him as an Outsider Artistâ€¦a status conferred due to his stylistically naive approach, his mental condition, and the fact that he was characterized as â€˜lost between worldsâ€™. Bennâ€™s hero Albert Namatjira, was similarly positioned. Namatjira was more than just an inspiration, he was Bennâ€™s saviour. Benn followed Namatjiraâ€™s example almost to the letter by depicting his country in accordance with Aboriginal law. Yet there is a radical difference between Billy Bennâ€™s art and that of Albert Namatjira. Benn painted in acrylic not watercolour and made no effort to record the colour and contours of his desert homeland in exact detail,. Though his early meeting with Namatjira and his similar adoption of western convention was an important touchstone for Benn himself, it is interesting to note that Namatjiraâ€™s entire oeuvre was painted prior to the emergence of the Western Desert art movement while Bennâ€™s was conducted concurrent with it. Yet both found a way of imbuing their works with a legitimate way of telling the story of the land without revealing anything of its secret narratives.