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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.

Jarinyanu David Downs, 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)

Jarinyanu David Downs (c. 1925-1995), Wangkajunga-Walmajarri painter, printmaker and preacher, lived a traditional life in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia until he was a young man. Moving to the Northern Territory in the late 1940s, he worked as a drover and miner. He converted to Baptist Christianity in the mid-1960s, and became a church elder at Fitzroy Crossing. Shortly after this he began to make shields, boomerangs and coolamons decorated with ochre; he began painting figuratively on paper, shields and canvas in the early 1980s. One of his repeated themes is the Kurtal, to do with the snake spirit who takes the form of a man, travels across the land and brings rain. However, many of his paintings include Christian imagery, and some combine his traditional stories and personal experiences with Baptist stories; his body of work expresses his philosophy that we ‘gotta make ’em whole lot one family’. Downs was represented in many group exhibitions in the 1980s and 1990s. The National Gallery of Victoria holds fifteen of his works and the Art Gallery of Western Australia has one of his very large paintings of Kurtal.

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

Accession number: 2005.61.4

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Martin van der Wal (age 33 in 1986)

Jarinyanu David Downs (age 61 in 1986)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

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.