A memorial service will be held next week to honour leading WA artist Shane Pickett, who died last Friday aged 52 after a sudden bout of illness.
The service will be at 11am on Monday at the Social Sciences Lecture Theatre at the University of WA.
He had been working on a new exhibition due to open in Melbourne next month, coinciding with his 53rd birthday.
The son of Fred and Dorcas May Pickett, Pickett grew up in the Wheatbelt with his extended family who taught him the traditions of his Balladong and Jdewat people.
Balancing innovation with tradition, modernity with an ancient spirituality, Picket drew on this background during a 30-year artistic career that saw him acclaimed nationally for his dreamy acrylic renditions of the six traditional Nyoongar seasons.
“The six seasons hold all the important values for the Nyoongar people in more ways than the imagination can probably envisage,” he told The West Australian in 2008.
In 2007, Pickett won the $40,000 national Drawing Together art prize, one of Australia’s richest.
He also was a ten-time finalist in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in Darwin, where he won the online people’s choice prize last year, and twice won the people’s choice prize at the WA Indigenous Art Pickett moved to Perth in 1976 and began his artistic career, eventually participating in more than 27 solo and 80 group exhibitions across Australia, Europe, America and Asia.
His early career was devoted to painting in the figurative landscape tradition of the Carrolup School. He quickly mastered this style, bringing a fresh lyrical depth and texture to the style which resulted in him being named WA Indigenous Artist of the Year in 1988.
By the 1990s, Pickett’s landscapes became increasingly abstract as he dedicated himself to representing his poetic vision of the Dreaming. This new school of Nyoongar abstraction influenced the work of artists such as Ben Pushman and Troy Bennell.
“In my art I can share a small portion of what I’ve been taught, what my people have lived by for thousands of years,” Pickett told an interviewer in 2006. “Aboriginal art is like a window that people can look into and they can travel through that window, almost feel the energy that comes from the ancient past.
“Mankind has drifted away from the natural or purer parts of their hearts and their minds.
I mean, nowadays you even have machines replacing some of those organs. But if I can stimulate someone’s mind to take that journey into the past by putting paint on a canvas, if people can take a little bit of the knowledge they’ve gained from my work and maybe pass it on to their own family, that is very important to me.”
Between 1996 and 2003, Pickett worked as a lecturer at Swan TAFE in Midland helping to develop the Diploma of Aboriginal Visual Arts course. This led to a widespread adoption of Pickett’s style in the work of younger artists; an influence whose full legacy is only just becoming apparent.
The year 2006 was a landmark year for Pickett, who was a key driving force in the 10m x 8m Ngallak Koort Boodja painting - the biggest indigenous artwork in southern Australia – which was unveiled before thousands of people at the opening of the Perth International Arts Festival in Kings Park.
Marking the 30th-year of his artistic career, the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts held a Pickett retrospective and he held his first solo show in Paris.
Pickett’s central role in the development of Nyoongar painting also was recognised with his inclusion in several important institutional survey exhibitions including the National Gallery of Australia’s 2007 national touring indigenous triennial Culture Warriors.
His works are held in many of the country’s leading public collections, including the NGA, Art Gallery of WA and National Gallery of Victoria, and major private collections. Major commissions included artworks for the District Court and Central Law Court buildings in Perth.
Pickett is survived by his wife Violet, his sons Roger and Trevor and his five grandchildren.