Dino Wilson: A Rising Sun

Weaving tradition with innovation, Dino Wilson tells old stories in new and highly sought-after ways.

Words: Louise Martin-Chew

Dino Wilson’s explosive shapes and ochre colours portray the essence and the histories of the coming of the Tiwi sun. For his second solo exhibition at Melbourne’s Vivien Anderson Gallery – with his characteristic ochre colours, dramatic yawning circles and radiating lines delineated – his explorations evoke, he tells me, “Warnarringa – the sun in Tiwi. That wulimaka (old lady) Murntankala, brought warnarringa to the Tiwi Islands parlingarri (creation times). She made fire when everything was all dark and brought sun to the Tiwi Islands – that is our story.”

Wilson was one of five Jilamara finalists in the 2021 NATSIAA, and has been painting since 2017. However, he has already had two solo exhibitions in 2020 (at Outstation Gallery, Darwin and Vivien Anderson Gallery). “Wilson has been a hot favourite for those arriving in Darwin for the NATSIAA for the last four years,” says Vivien Anderson. “Anticipating his work in the annual Tiwi breakfast, collectors would arrive mid-installation on the Thursday to get a sneak peek. All of his work was sold by the Friday morning opening.”

“What attracted the collectors was the maturity of his mark making,” Anderson continues. “In his solo at my gallery in early 2020, it was very evident that Dino possesses extraordinary restraint in his compositions; his spatial awareness is acute. Whether Dino is representing on canvas the magnitude of the sun or the animate properties of the sacred tunga basket, your eye is slowly drawn away from the main form to a most beautiful delicate spray of dots, or a seemingly random smudge of deep red ochre. And you find yourself thinking, that’s perfect.”

Wilson joined Jilamara Art Centre following the example of his mother Carol Black, soon after moving to Milikapiti. “[I’m] glad I joined the Art Centre to follow the footsteps of old Tiwi artists who have passed away and big mob who been here long time – like watching Timothy [Cook],” says the artist. “I was staying next to Jilamara with my mum Carol Black – now I come here every day to paint. When I paint I think about them wulimawi (old people) sitting down around the fire telling stories and paint with ochre from Country like I do.”

His success has been transformative, influenced by other Jilimara artists (like Cook, with whom he sits in the Art Centre), but also the art and artefacts in the Muluwurri Museum. “I like looking at those paintings of those old people,” he says, “those tutini poles, pamijini (armbands), carving and paintings. There’s photos in there too, of family all gone now.” Will Heathcote, Jilamara coordinator, wrote for the catalogue for Wilson’s 2020 exhibition at Vivien Anderson Gallery that: “Dino has a unique take on these long-standing relationships and his compositions of circles, dots and lines often illustrate elements of these Tiwi narratives. This is evident in his large images of tunga, where his broad strokes of ochre trace the outline of the object and dots illustrate the bag’s iconic side stitching and jilamara design.”

His painting means are traditional, yet bold in their innovation. His process uses, as he says, “big stick and small stick, people been doing that here for long time. They used to chew sticks to make brush and paint up poles and tunga (bark basket). Now we use big brushes and linen – I like using big brushes and then sometimes little sticks.”

Wilson’s presence is larger than life, described by Heathcote as loud and bright, and his contemporary adaptations of some of the old stories and his gestural style resonates widely. Heathcote recalls, “As his show was hung in Melbourne last year, people walked in off the street in St Kilda, people not involved in the Indigenous art market, to buy the work.”

JUDITH RYAN – ART HISTORIAN AND FORMER SENIOR CURATOR OF INDIGENOUS ART AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA, MELBOURNE:

In 2019 I encountered one of Dino Wilson’s energetic paintings in Melbourne and later that year viewed a body of his work at Jilamara Arts & Crafts. I enjoy his expressive use of Tiwi ochres, his bold attack on the canvas, dramatic use of negative space and simple, uncluttered compositions.

Through his practice he has made certain subjects his own, such as the rising and setting sun, the bush potato and the tunga, and paints with an unstudied flair all his own. Dino’s work reveals the great strength and continuity of Tiwi art and culture, past, present and future. Like many Tiwi artists before him, and in accordance with the principles of Tiwi culture, Dino has created an independent signature style and iconography, making his work both critically important and culturally relevant.

AMY BOYD – GALLERY MANAGER, VIVIEN ANDERSON GALLERY, MELBOURNE:

Dino’s work is undeniably Tiwi – exhibiting the palette and rough matte surface of hand crushed ochres, producing bold abstractions of contemporary Tiwi culture. His compositions are dynamic yet nuanced, and, as we have come to see, he works impressively at scale, the elements filling the canvas. There’s an energy and excitement about his paintings.

Dino was selected as a finalist in the inaugural King Wood Mallesons Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Prize, held at NSW Parliament House, Sydney in 2018. He was also a finalist in the Telstra NATSIAA in 2021. His first exhibition at Vivien Anderson Gallery was a sell-out – a mix of established, corporate and private collectors, as well as first time buyers who were drawn to his work. We have fielded consistent enquiries about the artist since then, and have a long list of collectors interested in his next solo.

Despite the increasing interest and demand, Dino remains an emerging artist – his prices will continue to be fairly steady in comparison to his last exhibition but are sure to increase in the medium and long term.

This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 99, January-March 2022. 

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