Braybrook artist paints on, loud and happy

Aboriginal Art Directory | 09.06.10

Emerging Indigenous artists are putting their best work on display as part of the Western Region Indigenous Art Show.

Now in its eighth year, the exhibition is part of Reconciliation Week and marks the 40 years since the laws allowing discrimination against indigenous Australians were removed.

Braybrook artist Ernie Ashley, who was part of the stolen generation, is exhibiting his paintings for the first time.

Mr Ashley was taken from his mother after his father died in 1944. He said she “couldn’t cope” with him and his brother.

“She used my head as a baseball bat,” Mr Ashley said.

At just five, he began his journey from one family to another. By the time he was 17, he had lived in five different homes.

It wasn’t until he was 36, when his mother was dying, that he found out his heritage.

His favourite methods are oil on canvas and water paint to create traditional Aboriginal artwork, but also enjoys drawing, sketching and making jewellery from beads and leather.

Mr Ashley is a volunteer art teacher at the Marlborough Unit of the Port Phillip Prison and hopes to sell some of his work to invest on more materials for his classes.

The retired truck driver said the prisoners don’t scare or intimidate him, but admits not knowing much about them.

“I don’t ask the prisoners their time, or why they’re there,” Mr Ashley said.

“Being stuck in those places they’ve got nothing.

“I found them pretty good. Some have left, and some have gone back in again.”

The prison’s general manager John Myers said art was a “valuable part of prison education”.

“It can lead them to discover skills and talents they never knew they had, which in turn builds self-esteem and self-worth and plays an important role in reducing the risk of prisoners reoffending,” he said.

Some of Mr Ashley’s pieces are loud and happy - using yellows, deep oranges and chocolate-browns to create abstract images. But others, like the drawings of native animals, are softer with romantic shades.

Mr Ashley said he has hundreds of paintings.

“I just paint them and I store them,” he said.

Moonee Valley Mayor Shirley Cornish said the exhibition recognises the “role that Australia’s indigenous culture and heritage plays in Moonee Valley and the wider western region”.

The exhibition is on now until June 17 at the Incinerator Arts Complex, Holmes Rd, Moonee Ponds.


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