The resonance of red dust

THE vibrancy and people of WA’s far north-west sent Fremantle artist Ian de Souza back to basics—and for a while robbed him of his ability to paint.

De Souza and wife Ros travelled the Kimberley regions with Tura New Music’s Resonance Tour, taking music to towns and remote communities.

“When I came back I had to come up with concepts of everything I had observed,” he says. “I worried abut it for two months because I was overwhelmed. I gave up, and when I gave up it poured out of me.”

De Souza’s art had, over his 33-year career, developed into abstraction but with Tales of a Tura Traveller he’s returned in part to his earlier style.

“The work I’m doing here is almost going backward in the sense it’s more realistic,” he tells the Herald, saying the landscape and people needed portrayal in the rich colours of the land, requiring a style different from anything he’d done previously.

“To push my work forward I had to find a way of using bold colours.”

Tura Music conducts regular tours with musicians performing for, and holding workshops with, indigenous communities.

• Ian de Souza says he had to “give up” before being able to regain his ability to paint. Photo by Matthew Dwyer

• Ian de Souza says he had to “give up” before being able to regain his ability to paint. Photo by Matthew Dwyer

On the Resonance tour internationally renowned composer and didgeridoo player William Barton and Stephen Pigram—one seventh of the Pigrim Brothers—travelled and performed with The Echo Ensemble.

De Souza used bold brush strokes, applied at a frantic pace, to convey a sense of the pure joy of youngsters enjoying the music, or playing on instruments they’d fashioned themselves with help from the Tura crew.

Wide eyes alight, one little girl is captured as she “went out of space” elated to be making her own music; others show youngsters watching a performance with rapt attention, and Barton is captured on a dirt road tossing red dust into the air in celebration.

De Souza also revisits earlier works from the north-west in this exhibition with dramatic images of gorges on layers of rice paper.

Hailing from Malaysia the artist was intimidated on his first trip north in 1990 by the vast openness of the Australian bush and he recalls his muse deserted him: “For two weeks everything I did failed…On the last day I went for a walk and came up with these six works.”

During that walk he’d had a feeling he was being watched, and he later discovered holes in the soaring gorges were ancient Aboriginal burial sites.

Tales from a Tura Traveller is on at Freight Gallery, 21 Beach Street, Fremantle May 1–10.


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