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Bitumen & Dirt

This month, CDU Art Gallery showcases the career of Alice Springs artist Wayne Eager, with 85 works from private and public collections around the country exhibited together for the first time.

By Anna Dowd

Ask painter Wayne Eager to describe his art to someone encountering it for the first time, and his answer is considered, short and to the point.

“I’m somebody who’s inspired by country and who’s lived a long time in the Territory.”

A founding member of the avant-garde Roar Studios in 80’s Fitzroy Melbourne, Eager first visited the NT in 1990, with a stint in the desert and a visit to his brother at the CSIRO Research Station in Kakadu.

The monumental landforms and open blue skies proved to be an inexhaustible source of creativity.

“It’s the country, I love it, I’ve always loved it. The big openness, the colour, the crisp light – it’s all been the inspiration for my paintings.”

The body of works created out of this first encounter include titles like Dry Season Kakadu painted in 1990 and Naramu Billabong painted in 1991, and show the origins of the artist’s enduring relationship with Territory landscapes.

Eager and his partner, artist Marina Strocchi, returned to the Red Centre soon after for three months to work with Indigenous artists in Haast Bluff on Luritja country, west of Alice Springs.

“That turned into five years working out there, and now 28 years in total living out bush and in Alice Springs,” he says.

“We just got totally involved with the people. It’s a job that once you started, you couldn’t just jump up and leave.”

After decades immersed in the rich artistic practices of the central and western deserts, including work as a field officer for the famed Papunya Tula Artists, Eager says he often gets asked how it’s influenced his own work.

“That’s not an easy thing to answer. I’d like other people to answer that for me, in a way. I just like painting, and I like to see people develop whatever they’ve got. It’s all inspiration to me.”

For Eager, going into the studio involves everything dropping away, and finishing a painting can take anywhere from one a week to 20 years, in the case of one of the works in the exhibition Linework No. 1, completed in 2013.

“It’s not like I’ve got anything absolute when I start,” he says of his style, which over the course of his career has moved between the figurative and the abstract.

“It’s just all these details, a flickering of light on the bushes, the curves of the rocks. It all turns into a mish mash. I’ll work things, give them another layer, or two or three, and that turns into paintings.”

Curator Kellie Joswig is excited to bring the breadth of Eager’s work to a Top End audience.

"To see an overview of his oeuvre, a survey of such a large number of works created over a 30-year career in the Territory, is going to be quite extraordinary," she says.

"Wayne Eager’s style is quite unlike that of other contemporary NT artists. He developed his own very unique visual language early in his career and has continued to hone it, with meticulous attention to mark-making."

Bitumen & Dirt | Wayne Eager: 30 Years in the Territory
WHEN THU 22 OCT, 2020 – SAT 20 FEB, 2021

All works by Wayne Eager.

Header & thumbnail: 'West MacDonnell Ranges' (detail), 1994, oil on ply, 30x214cm
Inset L-R: 'Salty Blue' (detail), 2019, gouache on paper, 68x50cm, courtesy the artist.
'Figurescape (State II)' (detail), 2007, etching, 47x82cm, courtesy CDU Art Collection.
'Red Town' (detail), 2018, oil on linen, 138x122.5cm, courtesy the artist and Eastgate Gallery.
'First Rain' (detail), 2007, lithograph & Chine Collé, 66x50cm, courtesy CDU Art Collection.

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