North Queensland has gradually developed into a virtual Mecca for the creative soul, having long drawn artists from diverse cultural backgrounds both within Australia and beyond. 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.
Captivated by the people, lifestyle and surroundings of the Far North and Pacific Islands, the distinctive paintings of Archibald Prize winner Ray Crooke create warm, vibrant reflections upon many of the simple routines associated with daily life in the tropics. This highly respected artist, whose works have been broadly acclaimed throughout his long and auspicious career, continues to live and work 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 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.
Painting in her studio at picturesque Mission Beach, Helen Wiltshire's bold, richly coloured paintings reflect the abundance of colour and movement which is typical of Mission Beach, North Queensland & the Wet Tropics. Featuring the exotic cassowary, Ulysses butterfly, richly textured shells and colourful fish her work is splashed on canvas and provides a visual expression drawn from the wonderful wildlife & landscapes of the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage rainforests in the area in which she lives.
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.
Claire's works are well sought after for their depth of thought, sensuous use of colour and a razor sharp eye for detail. Since coming to Cairns, Claire Souter has produced a body of work that is full of rich colours and lush growth, liveliness and spontaneity, giving us a new, close-up, thoughtful glimpse of the play of light and shade, wetness and shine on the leaves, foliage and flowers of tropical plants and trees.
Migrating from France as a young boy, Ludo Collingwood has had a passion for imaginative drawing from a very early age which was coupled with a childhood of running free in the wilderness of northern Queensland. The essence of Ludo's work lies in his ability to observe our world and interpret his observations in a way that a sense of wonder and joyful appreciation will resonate in us and recall a sense of deep connection with the natural world.
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.
Local indigenous artists continue to excel and gain worldwide recognition. They are supported by Canopy Artspace, and Jungara Gallery in Cairns; Australian Oceanic Art Gallery in Port Douglas; and Pandanus Gallery in Palm Cove.
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.
Canopy Artspace is a privately run space combining galleries, artist's studios and a printmaking workshop that are dedicated to showcasing Queensland's indigenous artists and providing the facilities to nurture the region's artists of the future.
In this expansive space, collectable contemporary works by internationally recognised artists such as Dennis Nona and Wynne Prize winner Joanne Currie hang along side those of emerging 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 provoking, the unique art of North Queensland celebrates the spectrum and diversity of life in the northern tropics.