Catherine Asquith Art Advisory
Queenie McKenzie is, along with Rover Thomas, the best known of the east Kimberley painters.
Queenie was born some time before 1930 at Old Texas Downs on the west side of the Ord River in the east Kimberley. Her mother was a Malngin/Gurindji woman and her father was a white horse-breaker. As a young child of mixed parentage, Queenie was at risk of being taken by police from her mother as one of the "Stolen Generation". Her mother had to resort to blackening her with charcoal, in order to prevent her being taken away and brought up in a mission.
As she grew up, Queenie worked as a cook on cattle stations - something she continued doing for almost forty years until 1973 when she settled in Warmun (Turkey Creek). She was a senior member of the Warmun community, a teacher of Gija language and culture and also played a significant role in native title claims in the region. Queenie was the driving force behind reintroduction of women's law meetings in the East Kimberley in the early 1980s.
She watched the artists of Warmun at work and decided that she would also like to take up painting. In the mid 1980s, she made and painted a coolamon, which was much admired, and then began to make pictures of her country, mostly with coloured pencils and occasionally with ochre on canvas board. Some were made for local use and others were for sale.
Her painting generally followed Rover Thomas' style, showing country in natural ochres, blending landscape with local events, family and Dreaming stories. Her landscapes are distinctive depictions of Kimberley country, using dots to outline simple but bold forms. Most of her works from this period contain a horizon line, layers of hills, plants and animals, or human figures, and some include Biblical figures.
Queenie started painting with Waringarri Aboriginal Arts in Kununurra during 1990, where her work was first exhibited and came to notice. Her paintings were distinguished by their pink and purple ochres which she mined herself. Her work was included in a major Kimberley exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1992 and her first solo exhibition was in 1995.
She became an active printmaker after producing her first prints in 1995 in collaboration with printmaker Theo Tremblay.
One of Queenie's strongest motivations in working as an artist was to inspire younger artists and to help them keep their culture strong. She was instrumental in establishing the first wholly owned art centre for Gija artists in the Warmun community - Warmun Arts was opened in 1998.
Queenie McKenzie passed away in 1998