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Doors open at Art Leven's gallery for exciting country x Country exhibition

Rhiannon Clarke -

Art Leven's has opened its doors to art lovers to come and experience their beautiful exhibition country x Country.

Curated by Gadigal woman Konstantina, the project is said to be marking the new era for Australia's oldest Indigenous Gallery, featuring works from artists including Kitty Napanagka Simon and Neil Ernest Tomkins.

The unveiling for their inaugural exhibition happened in Sydney on Wednesday with the exhibition running from 27 July - 26 August.

The exhibition features works created in the Northern Territory Warlpiri community of Lajamanu.

Travelling to the remote NT town of Lajamanu, Art Leven brought along Sydney artist Neil Ernest Tomkins for a week-long painting workshop at Warnayaka Arts, alongside Warlpiri artist Kitty Napanagka Simon.

Art Leven's objective was to organically explore themes around the craft of landscape painting and ways of seeing and translating land and Country.

The painting project leading up to this exhibition was graciously hosted by the Warlpiri owners of Warnayaka Arts in Lajamanu over five days of painting at the art centre studio.

Through distinctively bold use of colour a major shared theme in country X Country is the artists' process of layering perception and memory, expressing their view of landscape as an act of recognition and blending.

Other participating Warlpiri artists include Annie Napanangka Simon and Biddie Napanangka Timms, Robin Napurrurla Lawson and Isaiah Tjungurrayi Lewis.

Kitty Napanangka Simon - Mina Mina Jukurrpa (Mina Mina Dreaming) (Image: supplied, Articulate)

"Art Leven intends to honour the legacy of Cooee Art as Australia's oldest Indigenous gallery," Director of Art Leven Mirri Leven said.

"While project-based partnerships with non-Indigenous artists mark a new direction for the gallery, we remain strongly committed to promoting Indigenous art and culture.

"By broadening the gallery's program, we aim to invite audiences of the wider Australian and Western art world into a more intimate and understanding appreciation of our First Nations' artists, past and present."

Ms Leven said she maintained a close relationship with artist Kitty Napanagka Simon as both a friend and artist.

"Cooee and the Warlpiri community of Lajamanu have had a close relationship and a long history, even before I came on as gallery assistant almost 20 years ago," she said.

The new gallery will work directly with First Nations curators, art centres, and represented artists.(Image: supplied, Articulate)

"Later, Kitty became the first artist I took on to represent as a fledgling co-owner and director of Cooee.

"This new chapter is not only an exciting development for us, but hopefully the wider Australian art community.

"Through this new direction, we aim to foster an environment of openness, transparency and communication that will bridge the gap and encourage exchange between Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists.

Established in 1981 to represent and support artists in an ethical and sustainable way, Cooee Art has since evolved by adding auctions to its credentials and exhibiting several of Australia's leading artists.

"One tenet of this project is to include artists who are specifically not in an exclusive relationship with Art Leven.

"In an industry with a sometimes-murky past, I hope that part of the dialogue we foster can focus on what an artist can and should expect of a gallery or representative.

"Art Leven means to embody the evolution of Cooee, providing a pathway to new ways of working together.

"Showcasing two non-Gadigal artists for our first show as Art Leven, it felt important to invite a Gadigal woman from the Eora nation to curate and present the launching exhibition to the world."

Neil Ernest Tomkins - By Old Station (Image: supplied, Articulate)

About the Artists

Neil Ernest Tompkins.

Contemporary landscape painter Mr Tompkins has developed a painting style recognisable for its blending and fragmenting of imagery and perspectives.

He is renowned for his distinctive approach to mark-making and has been featured in myriad exhibitions across the globe, as well as being part of extensive commissions, murals, and residencies in Portugal, India, Peru, Mexico & Tasmania.

Tomkins' process usually begins en plein air, loosely drafted with a focus on composition and framework.

Often, the artist refines his imagery by cutting up photographs taken while travelling, arranging them into collages that form a reference for his ensuing paintings.

He is regularly exhibited and represented by galleries across Australia.

Kitty Napanangka Simon.

Ms Simon is a dedicated artist with a distinctive, singular aesthetic.

Her paintings – at first denounced by senior men for straying too far from the traditional idiom – have excited discriminating curators and collectors since her first solo exhibition at Cooee Art in 2013, winning admirers both inside and outside her tight knit Warlpiri community.

In 2020, Napanangka lost her sight due to cataracts and Leven, through Cooee Art, paid for her surgery. After regaining her sight, Napanangka Simon's painting practice has dwindled and one goal of the Lajamanu project will be her first major foray back into painting with a renewed confidence in her exceptional talent.

Lajamanu is an isolated township located over ten hour's drive south of Darwin; eight hours north-west of Alice Springs; and eight hours south-east of Derby.

Approximately 1000 Warlpiri people were forcibly moved to the remote point far north of the Warlpiri estate just after WWII.

First Nations art will remain as the main focus at the gallery, however in this new chapter, Art Leven will showcase a space for non-Indigenous and First Nations artists to co-exist together.

The new gallery will work directly with First Nations curators, art centres, and represented artists.

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