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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Rover Thomas, 1986

Martin van der Wal

inkjet print on rag paper (sheet: 42.0 cm x 29.7 cm, image: 25.3 cm x 25.3 cm)

Rover Thomas (1926-1998), Kukatja-Wangkajunga artist, was born in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia and worked as a stockman and fencer before losing his employment upon the introduction of equal pay for indigenous workers in 1975. The year he moved to Warmun, where he dreamed of a ceremony called the Kurirr Kurirr (Krill Krill). He told his uncle Paddy Juminji the details of the images he had dreamed, and Juminji painted them onto boards to be carried on the shoulders of participants in the ceremony. In 1981 Thomas began painting the Kurirr Kurirr himself. He soon moved on to views of his ancestral lands and depictions of events in ancient and modern history, such as Cyclone Tracy and the Bedford Downs Massacre. Along with Trevor Nickolls, he was the first Aboriginal artist to represent Australia officially at the Venice Biennale, in 1990. Four years later the NGA mounted a major retrospective of his work, and he featured in a host of major group exhibitions in Australia and overseas in the ensuing years. Rover Thomas: I want to paint, featuring 19 works from the Holmes à Court collection, toured nationally in 2004.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2005
© Martin van der Wal

Accession number: 2005.61.11

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Martin van der Wal (age 33 in 1986)

Rover Thomas (age 60 in 1986)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham), 1986 Martin van der Wal
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham), 1986 Martin van der Wal
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham), 1986 Martin van der Wal
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham), 1986 Martin van der Wal

Big shots

Magazine article by Djon Mundine OAM, 2017

Djon Mundine OAM brings poignant memory and context to Martin van der Wal’s 1986 portrait photographs of storied Aboriginal artists.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.