PNG Painting Today
Kauage & Contemporaries
98 Main Street, Kangaroo Point
4 January – 5 March 2017
Gallery Director & Co-Curator: Antonia Kelly
PNG Correspondent & Co-Curator: Robert Kelly AM
Papua New Guinea is our closest neighbour and is the country which Australia has had the closest relationship with. The family history of many Australian households include a connection with PNG country with generations of Australians have worked and lived in Papua New Guinea or in less peaceful time fought and died in the fighting during World War II.
My family is no exception with my grandparents working in PNG for over 40 years, my father and his brothers being brought up in the country and in the case of my father, returning to work there for a number of years. My brother was born in Port Moresby and I lived there as a young child – our family connection still runs deep through strong friendships and family relationships. Read more below
Perhaps more significantly for this exhibition my father lived there with my Grandparents for 6 years in Kundiawa in the Simbu (Chimbu) Province of PNG between the years of 1953-1959. Modern PNG is made up of 22 Provinces and Chimbu Province is situated almost centrally in the highlands of PNG. Kundiawa when my Father lived there was a small administrative centre administered by the local “Kiap” or District Officer ( My Grandfather), a small Hospital, school , trade store and a couple of missions. Today it is a thriving a bustling township and the centre of the Chimbu Province.
Chimbu is also the artistic centre of PNG with Chimbu Artists disproportionately represented among the current contemporary artists in PNG. This is almost totally due to one of PNG’s most famous artists – Mathias Kauage.
Mathias Kauage artists was from the Gembog region of Chimbu Province in the foothills of Mt Wilhelm, the highest mountain in the country at just under 15,000 feet, in the early 1940s. He was working as a cleaner at the University of PNG when he saw an exhibition of drawings in 1969 by Akis, regarded as PNG first contemporary artist
His work grew to large scale acrylic on canvas and he was the father of the X-ray painting style of helicopters, aeroplanes, cars, buses and buildings. His work also incorporated common motifs including mosquito’s, flags and the famous bird of paradise. He paintings told the story of the history of his country and “ples” (place or home) as well as covering contemporary issues and events.
His work was exhibited internationally in museums and Galleries in major cities including the UK, Germany ,and Australia with his works held in public and private collections all over the world.
To maintain the family connection, he was represented in London by Rebecca Hossack who also introduced him to the Queen at a Garden party and sold a painting to the Queen – a long way indeed from Gembog.
In 1998 he was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to art. Kauage died on 20 May 2003.
It is arguable that his greatest success has been his influence in inspiring generations of artists in PNG. Originally Kauage enrolled his family to help him in his work, and such as the apprentices did for some of the great masters, they became first interested and then proficient.
His family developed reputations and followings of their own and adopted brothers and sons, friends or Wontoks (all part of the extended family being a central part of PNG culture) were inspired and tutored by him.
Currently there is a significant number of artists from Chimbu working throughout PNG, selling their works and supporting their families by the sale of their art. in Port Moresby. The work of each artist is quite distinguishable but the influence Kauage has had on PNG contemporary art is undeniable.
The PNG artist has limited opportunities to reach a broad market with few, if any, commercial galleries providing outlets for their works. While there are a few buyers from overseas galleries these are few and irregular so most works are offered for sale at street side markets and the regular art and craft markets held in the main towns (Ela beach monthly market in Port Moresby for example).
The artists in this exhibition can all be said to be part of the Kauage School, indeed some are Kauage family, wife, bothers, adopted brothers and sons.
ElisabethKauage is a wife of Mathius Kauage and mother to the many Kauage inspired artists. Elisabeth originally worked on many of her Kauage’s pieces, (and there is a view that she was responsible for some of them), she established her own reputation as an artist after his death. Elisabeth can be found selling her fantastic work outside the Holiday Inn most days and is a regular at the Ela Beach Markets.
Andrew was born in 1984 he finished school in 1996 and started helping his father Mathias Kauage and mother Elizabeth painting. Since Mathias died in their house at Morata in Port Moresby, Andrew has continued painting with his young brother John. Andrew is working in the Kauage tradition, and now moving out from the shadow of his father to develop a strong and distinctive individual style.
Apa is one of Moresby’s most prolific artists. He first moved to Port Moresby in the late 1980s, where he was taught to paint by Kauage. Apa was adopted by Kauage as his son and although he took the Kauage name for a time he paints under his own name. Apa now works and sells his colourful works featuring the birds and animals of PNG in Port Moresby.
Oscar was born in the Kerowage district of Chimbu Province in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. In 1987 he moved from the Highlands to Port Moresby where, like so many, he was unable to find work. Working with Wontok’s John Siune and Mathias Kauage he taught himself to paint - Originally landscapes and developing styles influenced by the others around him. He currently lives and works in Port Moresby and is usually represented by his young daughter at the Holiday Inn Street Market.
John is from from Kerowagi in Simbu Province. Hestarted painting in 1994, and was taught by Mathias Kauage and worked with him for some time.
John Siune is related by marriage to Mathias Kauage and the cousin of Artist Apa Hugo (adopted son of Kauage), He started full time painting in 1985. John Siuneʼs major theme is the alienation of tribal society by urban influences. A painting in this exhibition shows a tribal woman. Half of the woman is in tribal costume, the other half in Western dress.
John was born in the village of Kakagi in the Gembolg District of Simbu on November 10th 1969. In 1999 John came to Port Moresby without any formal training and became a grass roots artist. His painting depicts scenes of the people and their surroundings. Each painting tells a story of the way of life in his country from Gulf Province to the Highlands.
Other artists include: