After the Bushfire - Danny Riley
After the Bushfire (2007) - Danny Riley 267-19
Acrylic on Canvas. 54 x 66cm
In 2002 Danny Riley, upon the death of his uncle, Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, inherited an old shack on Limmen Bight Country in the Gulf of Carpentaria. During the last part of their lives, both Marra men painted at the shack, situated at Maria Lagoon (Wamungu), their rich imaginative worlds reflecting an integration of intimate knowledge of the multiple complexities of their lands, including kinship with animals that live there, and the artists’ responsibilities as custodians, embedded in ancestral connectivity and relationship.
Custodianship is central to the relationship to land, through inherited rights and responsibilities (Caruana 2012 14-15), where practice is embedded in spiritual purpose (Pascoe 2019, 127).
When Danny inherited the shack at Maria Lagoon he used it as the site for his own artistic exploration. What came next was a period of prolific painting until he died in 2007. Throughout this period Danny’s preoccupation was with the aquatic animals with whom he shared his country. Knowledge of these animals is based in keen observation, an intimacy generated through daily interaction and custodial relationship.
After the Bushfire depicts Riley’s kinship animals, the barramundi, the crayfish and the stingray (Pandanus Gallery n.d.). That these animals are labelled as ‘bush tucker’ in the titles does not diminish their position; it is Danny’s knowledge (of them), as a fisherman, that earns them his regard and respect. Their physical features are expressions of their character, movement and behaviour, their forms simplified into their striking essence; a moment of movement captured in time and space. Each individual goes about its own business, self-motivated and self-directed, perfectly suited to its environment. In totemic relationship, where the emphasis is on kinship and reciprocity, there is fluidity between the conceptual constructs of human animal and non-human animal, which contrasts with western constructs of hierarchical superiority, subsequent disconnection from, and therefore destruction of land (Arabena 2015, 76, 125-6).