Dog(s) of the week – Dion Beasley and his Cheeky Dogs
We were in Alice Springs for a few days last week and went along to a great exhibition by the young Aboriginal artist, Dion Beasley at the Olive Pink Botanical Gardens.
Dogs Life is a small collection of Dion’s hand-coloured drawings of what he calls his Cheeky Dogs. As anyone who has spent time in Aboriginal townships in the NT would know, one of the most (or least – depending on your attitude to dogs) enjoyable aspects of life in an Aboriginal township is the obvious love and affection people have for their dogs.
And love and affection for his subjects is what is obvious from Dion’s Cheeky Dog pictures – extraordinarily long-necked, -legged and -bodied dogs, happy dogs, fearful dogs, playful dogs and all manner of cheeky, or dangerous, dogs. I’ve seen a few of Dion’s Cheeky Dogs over the years – mainly in and around Tennant Creek, where it seems just about everyone who serves you fuel, food, a room or a coffee is wearing one of Dion’s dogs on their uniform and I’ve bought a few of his prints on T-shirts and bags for friends. Dion’s Cheeky Dogs are immediately funny, whimsical and somehow marevellously insightful images that reveal much about his relationships with the dogs around him and his acute observations of their many different characters.
Dion grew up 300 km away from the already-remote Tennant Creek in the small Aboriginal township of Owairtilla, also known as Canteen Creek. Dion is profoundly deaf and suffers from muscular dystrophy and by all accounts had a pretty rough time growing up and at school and was well along the road to being one of those lost souls that too often fall between the cracks in remote areas of Aboriginal Australia.
But somewhere along the line Dion got lucky and a fortunate combination of caring family and meeting up with Joie Boulter, a retired primary school teacher who met Dion when he moved from Owaitilla to Tennant Creek a few years ago, saw Dion’s prospects brighten. Joie and Dion both learnt Auslan, the Australian sign-language, and this opened up lines of communication between them, and Dion’s drawing gave him a creative and enjoyable outlet for his energies.
The works on display at the Olive Pink Botanical Gardens are being toured around the NT by Artback NT and are the first works by Dion on paper. The space offered by the larger medium lets Dion explore new aspects of his craft – there is a greater use of perspective and depth, flights of whimsy and comedic narratives emerge, there are more dogs and the cheeky dogs go places – such as Canteen Creek. In ‘Off to Canteen Creek’ forty (or more) dogs are joyously crammed in the back of a dusty ute – baying to the world…and the one lonely dog trailing along behind. And then in ‘Canteen Creek at Last’ the ute dogs peer tentatively peer out at the pack of local dogs gathered as a dubious greeting party.
My favourites in the show are a set of three pictures – ‘The Stand-Off’, ‘Surrounded’ and ‘The Chase’ and the sequence tells a story of events played out every day in a bush dog’s life – that most tentative moment where the stranger – for whatever reason – is identified and sniffed-out (literally), the raw aggression of the group focused on the single dog in the wrong place at the wrong time and the subsequent pursuit – part complete chaos, part primal instinct and part sheer-pleasure-of-the-chase.
I was also tempted by new, non-canine images – ‘The Angry Bull’ and ‘The Grey Donkey’ each capture odd moments in the lives of these feral beasts and each have their attendant cheeky dogs. ‘Three Angry Cows’ kept drawing me back – and it was only on my third or fourth look that I realised what was so different – no cheeky dogs!
Dion Beasley’s Dogs Life will be on show at the Olive Pink Botanical Gardens in Alice Springs until November 5. To find out more about Dion Beasley and his Cheeky Dogs look here. For details on prints from the show go to Nomad Arts.