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Billy Joongarra Thomas

85 Career Overall Rank

89 2016 Market Rank

  • Born: 1920 - 2012
  • Active: 1995-2005

  • Region: Kununurra, WA
  • Language: Wangkajunga

While living at the small settlement of Billiluna, Billy Thomas began painting the odd acrylic work on canvas for Warlayirti Artists at Balgo Hills in the mid 1990s. Soon after,. however, on a journey into Kununurra he met Kevin Kelly, the manager of Warringarri Arts and from this time onward, his preferred medium was earth pigment (natural ochre collected from the region). When Kevin Kelly left the 'official' art centre to establish his own Red Rock Arts in Kununurra, Billy followed, and his most important works and the exhibitions they featured in date from the beginning of their freindship. His works first appeared at public auction in 1999 and since then no less than 92 works have appeared for sale of which 60% have sold. These results are however dominated by small early works that have depressed his average price and success rate. Of his top 10 results all but two were created during the second half of his 10 year painting career.

The highest price paid for a work smaller than 90 x 120 cm was $13,420. Jalpiny, measuring just 70 x 45 cm had been offered at Bonham's in 2012 with a presale estimate of $6,500-8,500. At the time it was the artist's 4th highest result and still stands as his 6th best. His record has however stood since 2007. Kangaroo and Spear Dreaming, 2001, which measured just 90 x 120 cm achieved $30,000 including buyer's premium against a presale estimate of $20,000-30,000, in Sotheby's, Important Aboriginal Art sale held in Melbourne during July that year.

A much larger spectacular painting, Gunambalayi Travels of the Black Snake, 1998 was expected to do far better when Mossgreen advertised tthe sale of the Ross & Rona Clarke Collection, in Brisbane, in September 2012. Mossgreen had hoped to achieve at least $30,000 and possibly as much as $50,000. In the event, it just fell short of the previous record at $29,280, even though it was considerably larger at 150 x 180 cms.

Though his best result was $10,800  his 11th highest ever), 2015 was a wonderful year for Thomas. Nine works were offered for sale all every single one sold. By the end of the year his average price stood at  $6,799 and although only 19 works have sold for more than this, 12 of these have sold for more than $10,000. Other stellar years for this artist were 2003, when 7 works sold for a total of $73,200 and 2007 when 5 works sold for $65,408. Even so of the 15 works offered for sale between 2013 and the end of 2015 all but 1 found a buyer, an indication that whenever one of his works come up for sale it is likely to be hotly contested, especially if it demonstrates that spare earthy pale white aesthetic so prized by collectors.

Billy Joongarra Thomas - Gunambalayi Travels of the Black Snake, 1998

Gunambalayi Travels of the Black Snake, 1998
Sold by Mossgreen Auctions, Brisbane on 09/09/2012 for $29,280.00
Size: 150 x 180 cm

Billy Joongarra Thomas - Marminijoo Waterhole 1997

Marminijoo Waterhole 1997
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Sydney on 29/07/2003 for $9,600.00
Size: 140 x 100 cm

Billy Joongarra Thomas - Balgoo Balgoo 2000

Balgoo Balgoo 2000
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne on 26/07/2004 for $10,200.00
Size: 100 x 80 cm

Billy Joongarra Thomas (c.1920 – 2012) began painting for Waringarri Arts in Kununurra in 1995. He was already in his seventies and like his friend and fellow artist Rover Thomas had spent his youthful years droving cattle on the Canning Stock Route, deep in the remote desert regions of Western Australia. He knew his country intimately and never ceased his ceremonial immersion and involvement within it. Right up until his final years, he continued to spend long periods ‘out bush’ before coming in to Billiluna or Kununurra again to paint. He was revered as a senior lawman and healer, custodian of secret initiation rites and ceremonial songlines. By the time he died in his 90s, peacefully, in the aged care facility at Fitzroy Crossing, he had participated in major exhibitions that brought the Kimberley tradition and history to the world. His paintings are held in state and private collections worldwide, still commanding high prices as part of a treasured and important indigenous legacy.

Born near Billiluna, the southern end of the Canning Stock Route, Billy inevitably became caught up in the repercussions of this huge well-sinking and cattle moving project through the Great Sandy and Gibson deserts which was nearing completion at his birth. The traditional nomadic lifestyle of his Wangkajunga people, like all the desert tribes of this vast inland area, was disrupted and their sensitive ecological balance with their ancient homelands destroyed forever.  Alongside other young Aboriginal men, Billy began droving cattle through the northern regions and tapping into a great cultural interchange that in some respects was the only positive aspect of what became known as the ‘wild time’.  As later histories have laid bare, brutal treatment from white settlers saw the widespread killing, dislocation and dispossession of the desert dwellers. During this time, their traditional network of ceremonial songlines and shared sacred sites became a source of social interchange and spiritual support, directly feeding into the evolution of today’s vital Kimberley art movement.

From the mid 1980s, contemporary artworks from the Kimberley were shown in Australia’s state galleries to an appreciative public audience, and recognisable personal styles emerged. The decade ended with the first Aboriginal artists (Rover Thomas and urban artist Trevor Nickolls) to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale. Some time later, around 1995, Billy Thomas walked into Waringarri Arts to ask the maneger, Kevin Kelly, for art materials and was soon rewarded with sell out shows himself. His unique, gritty ochres, with their palpable sense of earthy authenticity, employed traditional desert iconography to depict country through the lens of its ancestral associations. His cultural knowledge was formidable, but he would dot over and scrape back his mark making in order to ensure that secret, sacred aspects were veiled from general view. This gave a distinctive lightness to his work, reflected in his colour choices of much white and light grey, dusky pinks and yellow-brown ochres.

Billy’s totem was the black snake . Its sinewy swirls thread through this own Dreamtime landscapes, connecting the underground waterholes that are the vital sites of replenishment and ceremony. Waarla is a huge mudflat in the Great Sandy Desert that becomes a vast lake after rain. It is a historic meeting place for diverse desert rites that Billy maintained and taught to young initiates. His connection to the land was inextricably woven into his art. Billy’s fluidity of drawing became more accentuated in his later works. Gestural brushstrokes carry sumptuous white across the daubed and layered surface - the earthy being supplanted by the atmospheric.  Billy stopped painting in 2005 but not before tutoring his son, Lloyd Quilla. His seminal works are likley to provide foundational patterns for a future generation of artists.

Author: Sophie Pierce


Group Exhibitions:


2004 - Colour Power - Aboriginal Art Post 1984, National Gallery of Victoria Federation Square, Melbourne; EXPLAINED, A closer look at Aboriginal art, Aboriginal Art Museum, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


2002 - An Artists Survey, Balgo Hills, at Hogarth Galleries, Paddington.


2001 - Dixieme Biennale Internationale de la Gravure, - Arts d'Australie • Stephane Jacob / Sarcelles; Australie,Visages d’un continent, Arts d'Australie • Stephane Jacob / Galerie Visages de l'Art, Marly-le-Roi.


2000 - Arts d’Australie, Arts d'Australie • Stephane Jacob / Espace Mezzo - Avenue des Champs-Elysees, Paris; Accents Australiens, Arts d'Australie • Stephane Jacob / Espace Adamski Designs, Paris.


1999 - Australie – Art, Arts d'Australie • Stephane Jacob / J.L. Amsler - Bastille, Paris.


1998 - Le Temps du Rêve, Arts d'Australie • Stephane Jacob / Bibliothèque municipale, Le Perreux-sur-Marne; Propositions Australiennes, Arts d'Australie • Stephane Jacob / galerie Luc Queyrel, Paris.

Bibliography:     â€¨

Ryan, Judith (editor), Colour Power - Aboriginal Art Post 1984, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2004 (C).

Profile References

Discovery Media. current. NATSIVAD. Melbourne. Documentation Pty Ltd.
Eccles, Jeremy . 2012. Ode to Billy Thomas. http://news.aboriginalartdirectory.com/2012/08/billy-thomas-dies.php. Aboriginal Art Directory.
Short St Gallery. 25/11/15. Details of Billy Thomas. http://shortstgallery.com.au/artists/778882/billy-thomas. Short St Gallery.

Billy Joongarra Thomas - Gunambalayi Travels of the Black Snake, 1998

Gunambalayi Travels of the Black Snake, 1998
Sold by Mossgreen Auctions, Brisbane on 09/09/2012 for $29,280.00
Size: 150 x 180 cm

Billy Joongarra Thomas - Marminijoo Waterhole 1997

Marminijoo Waterhole 1997
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Sydney on 29/07/2003 for $9,600.00
Size: 140 x 100 cm

Billy Joongarra Thomas - Untitled

Untitled
Sold by Bonhams, Sydney on 21/11/2011 for $13,200.00
Size: 140 x 100 cm

Sites

Subjects

Medium

Ochres on Linen and Canvas, Synthetic Polymer Paint on Linen and Canvas

Regional Map

Note: This map is a representation and not accurate. Some sites are sacred and therefore not shown.

Market Performance

Career Totals

AIAM100 Rank
85
AIAM100 Rating
1.9685
Sold/Offered
69/108
Clearance Rate
64%
Average Price
$6,167
Total Price
$425,507
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
0.0297 0.1888 0.0641 0.7158 0.3049 0.2582 0.1101 0.5719 0.1462 0.0369 0.1957 0.1766 0.4267 0.3377 0.0521 0.5395 0.1842
1/2 2/3 1/4 7/8 4/10 4/9 2/6 5/5 2/3 1/5 4/8 4/5 3/8 5/5 2/3 16/16 4/5
$881 $8,913 $4,113 $10,457 $5,810 $4,167 $3,028 $13,082 $5,342 $1,360 $2,395 $5,580 $20,233 $4,563 $679 $4,549 $2,120
Yearly Market Performance Graph from 2000 - 2016

Top 10 Artworks Sold at Auction

1

Kngaroo and Spear Dreaming 2001

sale price: $30,000.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 131 date: 24/07/2007
90 x 120 cm Natural earth pigments and synthetic binder on canvas
2

Gunambalayi Travels of the Black Snake, 1998

sale price: $29,280.00
auction: Mossgreen Auctions, Brisbane  lot: 51 date: 09/09/2012
150 x 180 cm Natural earth pigments on canvas
3

Young Women 1997

sale price: $21,000.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Sydney  lot: 200 date: 29/07/2003
120 x 90 cm Natural earth pigments and synthetic binder on canvas
4

Untitled 1999

sale price: $20,400.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Sydney  lot: 199 date: 29/07/2003
120 x 90 cm Natural earth pigments and synthetic binder on canvas
5

Kangaroo and Spear Dreaming

sale price: $18,000.00
auction: Bonhams, Sydney  lot: 138 date: 28/05/2012
90 x 120 cm Natural earth pigments and synthetic binder on canvas
6

Jalpiny

sale price: $13,420.00
auction: Bonhams, Sydney  lot: A59 date: 19/11/2012
70 x 45 cm Synthetic and natural earth pigments on canvas
7

Untitled

sale price: $13,200.00
auction: Bonhams, Sydney  lot: 16A date: 21/11/2011
140 x 100 cm Natural earth pigments and synthetic binder on cavas
8

Waringarri at Warla, 2003

sale price: $12,200.00
auction: Bonhams, Sydney  lot: 16 date: 24/03/2013
100 x 80 cm Natural earth pigments on canvas
9

Balgoo Balgoo c. 1997

sale price: $11,606.00
auction: Joel Fine Art, Melbourne  lot: 77 date: 05/06/2007
80 x 60 cm Natural earth pigments and synthetic binder on canvas
10

Waterholes and Sandhills in the Great Sandy Desert, 2000

sale price: $10,350.00
auction: Phillips International Auction, Sydney  lot: 214 date: 30/07/2001
140 x 100 cm Natural pigments and binder on canvas

Available Artworks

Sorry There are currently no artworks available for this artist.