The Italian word ‘brio’ means mettle, fire, ‘vivacity of style or performance’ which can clearly be observed in the energetic, experimental, and transformative spirit of the The Brio – their collective work a dynamic interplay of influences including Aboriginal desert traditions, abstract expressionism, action painting, found or junk art, street art, and art activism.
The Brio is based in the Barkly regional town of Tennant Creek (pop. 3 200) located in Waramungu country in the Northern Territory. The collective began in 2016 as an Aboriginal men’s art therapy program through Anyinginyi Aboriginal Health Organisation to help men with issues of alcohol and substance misuse. Under the direction of artist Rupert Betheras and supported by fellow artist Fabian Brown, Joseph Williams and the more senior David Duggie, the collective quickly gained traction amongst local men. Soon, its core membership grew to include Marcus Camphoo, Simon Wilson, Lindsay Nelson, Clifford Thompson, Matthew Ladd and Joseph Williams alongside several occasional members and fellow travellers. By 2018, the art therapy program had moved out of Anyinginyi and under Nyinkka Nyunyu, the Tennant Creek’s art and culture centre, where they were joined by artist Jimmy Frank.
Working collectively, the artists continuously challenge themselves to reinvigorate their individual practices through exposure to new materials and mediums, and through new approaches that are collaborative and dialogical. No individual’s authorship necessarily takes priority over the others. At times one artist might finish the work of another through reimagining the intentions and possibilities of their art in the act of both making and presenting their work.
Find out more below about the men behind the works exhibited in The Borderers.
Skin: Japaljarri, Jambin, Ampetyane
Language: Warlpiri, Warumungu
Fabian Brown was born in Alice Springs. He grew up in Ali Curing and has both Warumungu and Walpiri family connections. He started sketching at a young age when he was inspired by his elder brother, who was also a talented painter. Brown is very passionate about his art and draws from various imagery and influences from his life and travels. Educated in Ali Curung and Adelaide, Brown has travelled to various Australian cities and towns but holds his country and culture dearest of all. He is the leader of the Tennant Creek men’s painters and his work, while constantly exploring new artistic mediums, references both traditional and modern narratives and his own international iconographies. He is a great mentor to younger artists in the Brio; often he collaborates with them to produce work that speaks across generations.
Simon Wilson developed an early interest in art whilst at school. His latest style is predominantly, but not limited to, acrylic gloss on masonite board. Wilson works acrylic, enamel, and spray paint through hijinx, deliberation and chance to conceive the inconceivable in his painted and sculptural pieces. His work, characterised by experimentation, ambitious abstraction and its performative pulse – which Wilson renders through his pouring technique – is situated in an internal pictorial schema which, most often, represents the elemental and animal worlds. Along with the The Tennant Creek Brio, Wilson’s art was recently exhibited in the “NIRIN 2020” exhibition for the 20th Sydney Biennale.
Artist: Clifford Japiljari Thompson
Date of Birth: 1980
Clifford Thompson was brought up in Ali Curang. His mother’s country is Karlu Karlu (Devil’s Marbles) and his father’s country is Jarrah Jarrah, he belongs to the Kaytetye language group. Thompson has been a member of The Tennant Creek Brio since 2016 and has exhibited in Alice Springs and Darwin as well as participating in the 2020 Sydney Biennale. His preferred medium is acrylic on board, upon which he experiments with mesmerising spatial patterning – his bold and rhythmic line work depicts abstracted aspects of life in Tennant and Country, mainly from his mother’s country. In 2020, Thompson was introduced to ceramics and was mentored by potter Su Brown. He took a keen interest in hand building mugs, jugs and large platters and applying the unique style of painting he is known for through the Brio onto the pots he created. Thompson enjoys both painting and ceramic building primarily for its meditative qualities, through both mediums, he is able to connect with country and remember his ancestors.
Joseph Williams is an artist, master carver and an emerging cultural leader who works at Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre as a tour guide, arts worker and Cultural Liaison Officer. He began his artistic practice as a teenager with his grandfather during the mid-1990s. His grandfather taught him to make sculptures and carvings ‘the hard way’, says Williams, with an axe and wood rasp whereas now Williams combines a more modern range of tools. Williams is a natural spokesperson for his community, is a member of the board of Desart, speaks several languages and is a singer for ceremonial dance. His work includes paintings and a contemporary perpetuation of traditional objects including kayin (boomerangs), wartikirri (number 7 boomerang), clapping sticks and purnu (coolamons) fashioned from hardwood.
Williams participated in the 2020 biennale of Sydney with the The Tennant Creek Brio collective as well as shows in Darwin and Alice Springs. He believes in the value of the collective’s artists as role models for the younger generation. As a solo artist, Williams draws inspiration from his Warumungu and Croatian heritages. He has shown works through Croatia House in Sydney and was shown in the 2021 Vincent Lingiari Art Award with an installation at Tangentyere Art Gallery in Alice Springs.
Lindsay Nelson was born in 1974, and grew up in Ali Curang, his home country is Jarra Jarra. Lindsay speaks both Walpiri and Kaytetye. Inially, he worked for the Council at Ali Curang in Community Development before settling in Tennant Creek where he began painting with the Tenant Creek Brio. Nelson’s father was an important ceremonial boss in the region and widely respected for his knowledge of Law and country – this is reflected in his sparse and elegant iconography, which draws to a great degree upon the ceremonial language of his forebears.
Artist: Rupert Betheras
As a teenager, Betheras admired many of the older street artists in collectives such as Future 4, USA (United Street Artists), and DMA (Da Mad Artists). He was attracted to the early innovators, the prolific and the rebellious. Rupert’s first solo show was in 2002 (at 4Cats Gallery, Melbourne) while he was a full-time professional AFL player (for Collingwood). In 2016 Rupert began working with a group of Aboriginal artists from Tennant Creek as part of a collective later known as the Tennant Creek Brio. The cross-cultural collaborative ethos of the Brio has long been a driving force in Rupert’s work through his engagement with Aboriginal communities (Pirlangimpi [Garden Point], Yuendumu, Oenpelli), with Aboriginal artists such as the late Lionel Possum (1972-2019), and with Indonesian artists with whom he worked as part of a Top End artists’ camp in 2015 which visited several locations/communities in the NT, culminating with a major exhibition in 2016.
Artist: Marcus Camphoo
Marcus Camphoo, aka, Double O, is an Alywarra man. Double O has a certain grace and otherworldly quality that shines through in his total commitment to exploring nuances of the grid, which has become his signature aesthetic. From the beginning it was clear Camphoo has a natural affinity towards large gestural and bold abstraction. The best of his works resonate like portals to an ulterior dimension.
Artist: Jimmy Japarula Frank
Jimmy Frank (Japarula) specialises in carving traditional implements such as Boomerangs, Coolamans, Didgeridoos, Woomeras, Spears, Clap Sticks, Stone Knives and Shields. He learned how to carve from his Uncle Day Day Frank. He collects the timber locally – Mulga, Snappy Gum, Badwadie, Dogwood, Blue Mallee, and occasionally timber from the Bean tree. He prefers a natural stain which emphasises the grain of the wood.
Image of artist collective shot by Harry Price at Warrego Mine, Tennant Creek. From left to right: Rupert Betheras, Simon Wilson, Clifford Thompson, Levi McLean and Fabian Brown.
This information has been provided to Modern Times by Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre. 13 Paterson Street, Tennant Creek, NT, 0860, Australia