Mabel Juli is one of the most dedicated and iconic of all Warmun artists. Her seniority and status as one of Australia’s most
revered painters has emerged from a consistent and growing body of work characterised by bold yet simple compositions that are informed by nuanced and detailed stories passed onto Mabel from her family.
She has been featured in over one hundred group shows as well as several solo shows throughout her career; her most recent one being held in the Kimberley artists own region at the Short Street Gallery in Broome (June 2018). She has also been featured twice as a finalist in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awards (2015 and 2018). Mabel’s Garnkiny Ngarranggarni and other dreamings continue to define the Australian Indigenous art canon; a testament to her iconic and striking expression of her Gija culture is yet again celebrated in 2018, when her Garnkiny and Bird artwork are animated in projections for “Badu Gili” on the sails of the Sydney Opera House. The result is a unique cultural setting where two iconic Australian symbols are united in a year-long event honouring and the First Nations culture and art.
Mabel Juli was born at Five Mile, near Moola Boola Station (south of Warmun), and was taken as a baby to Springvale Station, her mother’s country. Mabel’s ‘bush name’ is Wiringgoon.
She is a strong Law and Culture woman and an important ceremonial singer and dancer. Juli started painting in the 1980s, at the same time as well-known Warmun artists Queenie McKenzie and Madigan Thomas. The women used to watch Rover Thomas paint and one day he said to tell them, ‘You try yourself, you might make good painting yourself’. Juli says, ‘I started thinking about my country, I give it a try’. Juli is a dedicated, innovative artist who continues to work in natural earth pigments on canvas. She primarily paints the Ngarranggarni (Dreaming) stories of her country Darrajayin which is covered largely by Springvale Station.
Mabel started work on the station as a little girl, and as a young woman moved to Bedford Downs Station and Bow River Station to work. Juli’s mother is Mary Peters. Juli is one of seven children – six boys and one girl, Mabel. Well known artist Rusty Peters is Mabel Juli’s brother. He also paints at the Warmun Art Centre.
Mabel left Springvale Station to be with her promised husband. Together they moved to different cattle stations in the Kimberley, including Bow River and Bedford Downs. Mabel and her husband had six children. He passed away in 1982; Mabel was 42.
ARTIST STATEMENT 2004: ‘I started painting when the old girl [Queenie McKenzie] was here – she was the one who taught me to paint. She told me, ‘You try that painting’, and I started to paint. I was doing that Garnkiny [Moon Dreaming]; that’s the painting I started with – because my mother and father told me that Ngarranggarni [Dreamtime] story. I was reminded of all those stories from my mum and dad – like Glingennayn Hill and the Old Woman Singing Out for Her Dog. Those stories come from my country [Springvale]. ‘They used to take me out bush when I was a little girl – good size – and they told me all about those Dreamtime stories. And I always remember those stories. I got ‘em in my brain.’
ARTIST STATEMENT, 2007: ‘I’m feeling pretty good. I like going to exhibitions, going to Sydney, feels good. ‘I’m always busy. I finish the work, the painting, and go home. Go to [Warmun Community] council meetings, go to court [as an elder]. I got to make money to get tucker for my grandchildren. I still think about Aunty [Queenie McKenzie, who taught her to paint]. When I do paintings. She tell me about stories.’
ARTIST STATEMENT, 2018: “Ohh, too many years I’ve been working. When I was young, I was working around the school and my auntie Queenie [Mckenzie] asked me to do painting…I’m the first one to do painting. Other people, they all bin in the station, working you know… I’m getting old now. That’s what I do – painting – and my auntie, she learned me for painting. I’ve never do the [new] Ngarrganggarni (Dreaming) yet, only the old one. [The new one] might be next year… yeah.”