The perfectly timed magic of Carlene Thompson


Timing is everything. Carlene Thompson’s solo show Kanpi Country was due to debut online on 28 October, come what may. But now that Melbourne is emerging from lockdown and commercial galleries are opening by appointment, her exhibition was able to also open to the public, in real time, right on time.

Thompson is a proud Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara woman and the title of her show is a reference to her father’s country in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunyjatjara (APY) Lands in far north South Australia.

Thompson, who got her start at the Aboriginal owned and operated art centre Ernabella Arts in the APY Lands, is an artist who effortlessly works across multiple mediums including painting, printmaking, wood carving, ceramics and fibre-based works. She is a member of the well-respected women’s collective the Tjanpi Desert Weavers, but her current solo show focuses on new paintings and ceramic works.

The Kalaya or emu has a starring role in Thompson’s recent work and this powerful bird strides seamlessly from her two dimensional to her three dimensional creations. In fact, it often seems as if her paintings and stoneware ceramic vessels are two parts of a whole. In one such pairing six birds with folded wings are interspersed along a serpentine line painted in black and white on a background of swirling lines in various shades of blue. They then appear in the round, now themselves blue, on a intricately incised ceramic vase.

This transposition from flat painting to swelling 3D form – which Thompson dextrously executes again and again – feels like a clever sleight of hand, an impressive but simple trick; a little piece of artistic magic. And for Melburnians who’ve been housebound for so long and who could use a bit of wonder, Kanpi Country might be just what the doctor ordered, just in time.

Please note that Alcaston Gallery is open by private appointment and all gallery visitors must adhere to strict Covid-19 guidelines. Kanpi Country will run throughout NAIDOC week 2020.

Kanpi Country
Carlene Thompson
28 October – 14 November

Preview Words by Tracey Clement