Rover Thomas produced some of the most pivotal paintings relating to ancestral stories and major historical events in the eastern Kimberley. Although he did not paint for the market until 1982, his work exploded onto the art world and his skills and talent as a painter were instantly recognised. Notably, in 1990 he and Trevor Nickolls were the first Aboriginal artists to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale.
Thomas’s bold compositions, full of earthy textures and deep, rich, large blocks of colour, redefined the framework of what was considered to be Aboriginal painting at the time. Thomas depicted the landscape in innovative ways that would become the basis of the East Kimberley school of painting.
Roads meeting 1987 is an analogy for the coming together of two cultures in Australia: the red dirt track represents the paths of the ancestral beings and the original inhabitants, and the black bitumen road that of the new settlers. Hand stencils such as the ones in the painting are commonly found in rock paintings in the region and throughout Australia. In his description of the work, Thomas refers to them as stop signs.
This painting was reproduced on an official government poster promoting reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in 1999.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010