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 Rover Thomas  (c.1926 - 1998)

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Lived/Active: Australia      Known for: painting

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Thomas Rover Joolama is primarily known as Rover Thomas

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Biography from Mossgreen Auctions:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Rover Thomas is widely regarded as one of Australia’s most important Aboriginal artists.  The first major solo exhibition of the work of an individual Aboriginal artist was the Rover Thomas exhibition in 1994 at The National Gallery of Australia.  The seminal exhibition announced the emergence of a new style of landscape painting that moved beyond the dotted formats and more cartographic styles of the Papunya artists, who were highly influential during the new rise of interest in the collection of Aboriginal art.

In Thomas’ paintings, visual fields of solid ochre colors, black tones and yellow or buff pigments were applied to canvas to suggest the features of the country.  These were usually outlined with white pipe-clay stippling, an application technique that developed directly from the traditional motifs of East Kimberley rock art.  This form and technique of landscape painting become the basis for what is now recognized as the Turkey Creek or Warmun School of the Kimberley Region.

Although it is conceptually seriously mistaken to do so, Thomas’ paintings have often been compared with the color field works of the American late-Abstract Expressionist artist Mark Rothko (1903-1970).  An apocryphal story holds that when Thomas saw Rothko’s painting at the Australian National Gallery he is supposed to have said “Who’s that bugger who paints like me?"  Of course, Rothko did not paint like any Aboriginal artist as it would be impossible for him to do so.  The story highlights the conscious simplification of form and the massed color formats characteristic of Thomas’ works. 

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