Paddy Bedford: Subtle Power
Paddy Bedford is one of the best and most collectible of the East Kimberley School of Artists.
He did not start painting on canvas until he was in his late 70’s having spent most of his life between being a stockman and living a traditional lifestyle.
He is best known for Blood on the Spinifex exhibition based on the Bedford Downs massacre at the National Gallery of Victoria. These artworks brought broad acceptance to the credibility of Gidja oral history, especially their traumatic encounters with white settlers.
The aim of this article is to assist readers in identifying if their Aboriginal painting is by Paddy Bedford. It compares examples of his work. It also gives background to the life of this fascinating artist.
If you have a Paddy Bedford Aboriginal painting or East Kimberley Artwork to sell please contact me. If you want to know what your Paddy Bedford painting is worth please feel free to send me a Jpeg. I would love to see it.
Paddy Bedford Early Life
Bedford was born at Bedford Downs Station East Kimberley Western Australia in around 1922.
Paddy got his name after the station manager Paddy Quilty. Quilty was a hard man, who some believed was the instigator of the poisoning of Gidja Men at Bedford Downs.
In his younger years, Paddy Bedford grew up surrounded by aboriginal stockmen and station life. He worked for Quilty along with many of his Gidja countrymen.
Aboriginal stockmen only worked in the Dry season and in the wet season paddy lived a traditional life off the land. Initiated into Gija culture and law he developed a reputation as an accomplished spear and boomerang fighter.
During his younger years worked on many cattle stations. These were all in or near his traditional country, including Greenvale, Bow River, and Bedford Downs.
Paddy Nyunkuny Bedford painting years
In his later years, Bedford moved to the main Gija community of Warmun. By this stage, he was a senior Gija lawman and his painting centered on the adornment of the human body. He painted both himself and others for secret ceremonies and for public performances.
It was not until he was in his late 70’s that by chance an Aboriginal art dealer discovered some of his art destined for the Rubbish tip. Paddy encouraged to paint on canvas instead of board found his place amongst aboriginal artists.
Paddy began painting commercially later that year in 1997, with the formation of Jirrawun Aboriginal Arts. He soon became one of the most renowned painters in the East Kimberley, and his work featured in many solo and group exhibitions.
Jirrawun Arts were able to provide Paddy Bedford with support and promotion. It organised many shows in which Bedford starred during his lifetime. These, including Blood on the Spinifex at the National Gallery of Victoria and True Stories at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Paddy Bedford was amongst the few selected to contribute to the permanent installation at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris.
Paddy Bedford Painting style
Paddy’s style characterized by richly ochred surfaces of different colors. These minimal arrangements of circular shapes or blocks are delineated by white dots.
His compositions often have large areas of subtle variable semi-monochrome blocks of ochre. The blocks of ochre are often separated by black lines dotted delineated with fine white dots.
To some degree his early art resemble those of celebrated artist Rover Thomas. Most of Bedfords art though is often physically much lighter in colour. This allows for the subtle variation of pigment shades to be more outstanding.
The initial abstraction or minimalism of Bedford’s canvases is of course superficial. His art is underpinned with a richly layered portrait of country. His works are full of oral history, the significance of which is only revealed through the accompanying narrative.
The subject of his artworks is often of country involved massacre and brutality. His depictions of such history and landscape though done with extreme subtlety. It is the power of this modesty of the voice, the quiet economy of the storyline that attracts collectors
Massacre at Bedford Downs
References and recommended reading
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Paddy Nyunkuny Bedford Images
The following images of the Artworks of Paddy Nyunkuny Bedford are not a complete list of his works. They do however give a good idea of the style and variety of this Aboriginal Artist.