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Vernon AH KEE

Kuku Yalanji/Yidinji/Waanyi/Gugu Yimithirr/Koko Berrin peoples

Innisfail, North Queensland, Queensland, Australia born 1967

mythread 2007
Collection Title: mythread
Title Notes: 1, HR image
Place made: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, painted sketches, synthetic polymer paint; charcoal; conte crayon; canvas drawing in charcoal, conte crayon and synthetic polymer paint Support: canvas

Dimensions: image (each) 177.0 h x 240.0 w cm overall 177.0 h x 720.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2007
Accession No: NGA 2007.188.A-C
Image rights: © Vernon Ah Kee

I started this series of drawings with my ‘heroes’. A portrait of my grandfather, Mick Miller. He was larger than life and held a special role in society. Grandfathers are already fully evolved when you meet them. Their personality is not evolving or growing, it’s set in stone…Different to the father–son relationship. Grandfathers have an immediate fondness toward their grandchildren. They are also very much heroes to everyone in the family. I thought it was natural to want to portray them on a large scale, to make them large drawings. If I made a video of my grandfather I would want it to be projected really big…

I’ve done a few self-portraits in pastels to try it in the past, but other than that. not many. It’s really just like any self-portrait – I just do whatever strikes me at the time. I have license to make any comment that strikes me. They also say more about me than any other work because they are unavoidably me. When I am making them I don’t have to worry about making the subject look good, or portray myself as big, brave, sexy or handsome, because I don’t need to. There is more to say in being honest and conveying a sense of an Aboriginal experience in each of my self portraits. Now I have the opportunity to make more self portraits which offers the opportunity to find out more about myself…

…the other part of the drawing is of my grandfather Mick Miller. All of my other portraits of my grandfather have been of him as a young man, taken from museum photographic records. Whereas here he is drawn as I remember him, a 70-year-old man. In the corner a  tag reads ‘Waanyi Man, Lawn Hill, Palm Island’. He was a Waanyi man sent to Palm Island, where he met my grandmother, who was born there. I was pleased to do this work as it’s me and my grandfather. I am very comfortable in recreating our relationship, but I’m also adding a new dialogue. Here I’m posed in museum style with a front and side profile, which is poetic as it’s like the standard museum photographs of my grandfather…I’ve also rendered myself in a different way from any other portrait I’ve done. Here I’ve used thick broad strokes to marks that look like cuts on skin. This is commenting on my grandfather’s life as a young man and the tough life of that generation living in north Queensland. I wouldn’t have taken this approach in creating another person’s portrait.

Vernon Ah Kee, interview by Bruce McLean, Artlines, no.2–2007, pp.14–15.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra