FOCUS speaks with Old Bar resident, Rex Winston-Walford, an Aboriginal artist bringing a modern interpretation to an ancient art form and custom.
Adescendent of the Kamilaroi / Gumilaroi nation, Rex was adopted and raised by a white Australian family from the age of 3 months and grew up at Nyngan, a farming community in central west NSW. Rex always knew his birth mother and her family lived not too far away, but didn’t know where and didn’t have any contact with them in his youth.
Only in recent years has he connected with his Aboriginal birth mother and father. This meeting awakened his indigenous roots, with his art becoming a bridge between his unique upbringing and his traditional ancestry and blood heritage.
How long have you lived here in the local area?
About 6 or 7 years.
What do you love about living in the Manning-Great Lakes?
I love living in Old Bar. I find it far enough away from Sydney, yet close enough to make my periodical trips to deliver art. I’m blessed to have my parents only 15 minutes away on Mitchell Island, not to mention some great friends with whom I take advantage of the Manning River and ocean to fish. It’s a world away from the hustle and hectic pace of the city where I lived 5/6 years ago.
What brought you here?
I was working down in Sydney with my brother doing bins and skips, and Diabetes got the better of me. I was driving trucks and had a couple of accidents, and I thought, “Before I kill myself or someone else, I’ll get out of here”. My parents live out on Mitchell Island, so I packed up and came up here, stopped and had a bit of a re-group. I did a bit of art and got it into some shops, and I thought this could be all right. I took a load of paintings to Sydney – and haven’t looked back since.
How did you get started?
It all came about when I was living in Sydney. My sister was working for Range Rover at the time, and on the coffee table in the waiting room of her office was this auction book with Aboriginal art in it. I was looking at it and was thinking about the money that they were getting for their paintings, and I thought, “I reckon I could do one of these”. So I gave it a go, and it turned out really well.
My (adopted) brother and I had a bin and skip business on the Northern Beaches, and not long after, I found sticking out of one of the skip bins an Aboriginal painting. I thought, “I’ll get that out before it goes in the truck”. I went down to Darling Harbour, and I reckon I found a similar painting by an artist, and it was worth thousands of dollars. I sat it in my house, and I used to look at it all the time and think, “I could do that”. So I just started mucking around, and that’s how I got into art.
In about 2005, my mother who raised me organised with Link Up (Aboriginal Adoption Agency) for me to meet my biological family. I had to have an interview with them, and the guy walked in and saw my art and said, “You should enter this competition” (NSW Parliament House Indigenous Art Prize), and he handed me an entry form. I was a bit of a smart aleck, so I submitted a few paintings, but one of them was just a black canvas with a white dot in the top left hand corner and then signed. I thought I’d just see what kind of reaction it got – well, it got accepted. On the opening night at Parliament House, I stood by to watch people’s reactions. Some would giggle and laugh and wonder what is was. I called it Dot Art. I was just being a smart aleck.
The Artery on Darlinghurst Road in Sydney has supported me heaps. I went down there about 3½ years ago with one of my first major paintings. It had been out at the Waterbird at Manning Point for a while and I was getting some stuff into local shops in dribs and drabs, but I knew I had to get my stuff to Sydney. So I Googled all the Aboriginal galleries down there and the Artery started with A, so it was the first one that came up. I went straight there, and the woman who owns the gallery took my stuff on board.
I started off with a painting that had just two tones of blue and two tones of white in it. From there, working with the gallery and figuring out what sold, I am now doing all sorts of things. I keep an eye on current colour trends and work with that.
The spiral works I first started doing … I didn’t think much of them. But people really liked them, so I tightened up my act and got it all happening – and now they are my biggest earner.
What inspires your art?
The want to produce modern Aboriginal art that looks good in the modern home. I feel I’ve found a niche creating artworks with near perfect dot work to match the perfect interiors of a lot of the modern homes today. So, it’s up every day to create perfect paintings in beautiful colours to satisfy clients and future clients.
Did it ever occur to you in your youth to paint?
Yeah, but back in the ‘70s, growing up out west in a country town … I knew I was painting stuff as good as anyone else, but didn’t really get any recognition for it; so I just didn’t really worry about it. When I went to Kinross Wolaroi, a boarding school out at Orange, it took me about a month to learn how to play Rugby Union, then I was the captain of all my football teams, from there on in.
I discovered I come from the Walford clan, which is riddled with football players. Ricky Walford, football player for St George from years ago, he’s my first cousin. So rugby royalty is in my clan.
Then I found out on my father’s side (my biological father lives down in Forster), his brother, my uncle, is an artist, and we met recently. I went to do an opening talk for the Indiginous Art Prize at Parliament House recently, and I got to meet some more Walfords … there are artists there as well.
So, it’s in your genes?
What are some of your career highlights?
Every year since 2005, getting into the NSW Parliament House Indigenous Art Prize and being commended in 2010. Having my art in private collections such as Kerry Stokes, Alice Cooper, The Eagles, and just of late the American Consul General Niels Marquardt.
The journey of my life has changed for the better since I took up art in 2005. It has led me to meet interesting people and enabled me to give back to society through donating paintings for auctions and raffles. The main buzz for me, I must admit, is the look of awe on people’s faces – especially when they look at my larger pieces.
Favourite words to live by?
Keep it simple!