James Wigley and the Strelley Mob: Social Realist Painting in an Aboriginal Community

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James Wigley has been historicised by Australian art scholars as a social realist, but the focus of his work through the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s differed from others who were a part of this art movement. During this time, he returned again and again to join the “strike mob” who had walked off pastoral stations in the Pilbara in 1946 and become independent by mining and purchasing their own pastoral properties. The organiser of the strikers, Don McLeod, invited Wigley to help the strikers with building boats to gather pearl shell, and later to run a printing press at the school in the new settlement of Strelley, on one of their pastoral leases. During his time with the strikes, Wigley drew and painted; he would send work to Melbourne and return there to exhibit work about the Pilbara and the people who lived there. He also illustrated the schoolbooks he was printing for the Strelley Literature Centre in the late 1970s. This article argues that this significant body of work places Wigley alongside other Australian artists who spent substantial time in remote Aboriginal communities, and whose experiences shaped their art.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-32
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Australian Studies
Issue number1
Early online date25 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2024

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