Current Issue #477

Regina Pilawuk Wilson: casting the net

Ashlee Hopkins and Regina Pilawuk Wilson
Sia Duff
Ashlee Hopkins and Regina Pilawuk Wilson

Celebrated for her intricate weaving and painting works, Ngan’gikurrungurr artist Regina Pilawuk Wilson embraces new mediums to explore timeless messages in Tarnanthi exhibition Pungungi Marrgu – Old and new.

“Weaving was passed on from my grandmother to my mother and then to me and my sisters when we were small,” Regina Pilawuk Wilson tells The Adelaide Review. In turn, Wilson has taught generations of children weaving at Durrmu Arts in Peppimenarti, a community south-west of Darwin she founded with her husband, Harold Wilson, in 1973.

Wilson, whose dilly bags, fishnets and, more recently, paintings are held in the collections of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, and the British Museum, is in Adelaide for a final visit to the studio of JamFactory ceramicist Ashlee Hopkins.

The space is filled with works they have been making since April. Although the exhibition represents Wilson’s first venture into ceramics, the themes she explores remain the same.

Regina Pilawuk Wilson
Sia Duff
Regina Pilawuk Wilson

“This is another way to tell the same stories,” she says. “It’s the same with my paintings. I got the idea to put my weaving onto the canvas so my children and my grandchildren can remember.”

Wilson’s work has captured the art world’s attention since winning the general painting award at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards in 2003.

“It was difficult learning how to paint the same way I weave,” she says. “Painting and weaving are very different.”

Yet Wilson’s paintings hit the same rhythm and tone of her weavings. Her fine, intertwined lines suggest motion and travel. Indeed, these lines have travelled – journeying through mothers and daughters across the ages – from Wilson’s three-dimensional weavings into painting.

Work by Regina Pilawuk Wilson
Sia Duff

Visitors to the JamFactory exhibition – part of the wider Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art – will see Wilson’s gifts as a painter captured on a series of large platters. The ceramics, thrown by Adelaide potter Mark Heidenreich, have been inscribed by Wilson with the patterns and ochre palette she uses to make sun mats.

Collaborating on this new group of works has been a synergetic process for both Wilson and Hopkins.

“Before we started any of these, we spent a lot of time talking and experimenting,” Hopkins says. “Regina told me the stories behind the objects we were creating. She taught me a lot about why we were making them, where they’d come from and how they were important to her culture. There were lots of cups of tea that first week.”

Slowly, these conversations led to a small group of ceramic works that recast material objects traditionally made through weaving or carving. This is perhaps most successfully done in the graphic, ceramic message sticks cast in clays that reflect the tones of the desert. Once carried by men on long journeys, message sticks were inscribed with symbols that brought news to neighbouring communities.

Work by Regina Pilawuk Wilson
Sia Duff

The largest works in the exhibition are also by far the most ambitious and experimental. Occupying one entire side of the studio, this series of large clay vessels with precariously wobbly walls mirror the shape of the nets the Ngan’gikurrungurr people traditionally used to catch fish.

Hopkins has wrestled with the clay – a material naturally inclined to symmetry and stillness – to create a form that gives the impression of pliable fishnets in flowing water. One of Wilson’s own fishnets has been directly impressed onto the clay. The resulting artworks are irregular, rugged departures from conventional ceramics.

While these ceramic fishnets hint at what the pair could accomplish with more time to refine this experimental process, the works epitomise the thrilling potential when two artists with different backgrounds, who work across different media, come together.

Regina Pilawuk Wilson: Pungungi Marrgu – Old and new
JamFactory
12 October – 1 December

Tarnanthi: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art
October 18 – 27
agsa.sa.gov.au

Regina Pilawuk Wilson and Ashlee Hopkins' Tarnanthi collaboration is our October 2019 cover story
Sia Duff
Regina Pilawuk Wilson and Ashlee Hopkins’ Tarnanthi collaboration is our October 2019 cover story

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