The big picture
After 14 days suspended above ground, every muscle aching from balancing himself on narrow scaffolding, Kalgoorlie artist Jason Dimer savoured the opportunity to lie down, look up and enjoy a ‘Michelangelo moment’, knowing his artwork was complete.
The journey to that moment began months earlier when Jason was commissioned by IBA to paint the arched dome in the entrance hall of a building on Boulder Road, Kalgoorlie. The building was acquired by IBA in 2003 through its investments program and refurbished to government office standards, with tenants including the local Indigenous Coordination Centre. Where possible, IBA seeks to extend the economic development opportunities provided through its investments to the wider community. To this end, the walls of the building have long showcased the work of local Indigenous artists, including Jason’s own father Neil and sister Miranda.
‘My sister’s piece is right inside, as soon as you walk in…’, said Jason. ‘And that’s what actually attracted me to the place. I used to drive past, and sometimes at night there was a light left on inside and…I could see her painting a mile away’. Jason decided to make a visit to Boulder Road to discuss having his own artwork displayed, but once inside it was the possibilities for the arched dome within the entrance hall that captured his imagination.
‘I looked up at the dome area above me’, said Jason, ‘and thought it looked really bland… Having that artist’s eye I could see it really needed something, and I started thinking along the lines of Michelangelo… I asked IBA about [painting] it and they were receptive to my idea. Once it was approved, it only took me a few days to come up with the whole concept for the art and the scaffolding’.
A curved plaster dome presents different challenges to working on a canvas or the linen cloth favoured by many Indigenous artists. So in creating his art concepts, Jason was required to factor in ceiling height, artificial and natural lighting, the scale of the dome and the absorbent nature of the plaster onto which he would paint. It was a challenge he says he relished both as an artist and as his father’s son. ‘I like a challenge’, he said, ‘and I just had to think on a bigger scale… There’s no such thing as can’t; that was instilled into me as a child by my father, and his father before him – it’s an inspirational line that runs through our family’.
Jason’s family ties span the length of the WA goldfields, from the Wutha Yilma people of the north to the Malba Mirining people in the south. After years of observing the painting techniques of his father and other community members, a teenage Jason took up his brush 23 years ago as a form of relaxation. He said: ‘My father was pretty surprised that I could actually paint. I said, ‘But I’ve been watching you do it for years!’ My style differs to my father’s though; his style was traditional contemporary whereas mine has a lot more symbols. I basically tell personal stories, and I pass those stories on to my children through my paintings… I am not telling traditional or sacred stories though, more about the things that have happened in my life. Most of those paintings will last 100 to 200 years….so those stories will eventually become a way of tracking the past for my family’.
It is a respect and love for family and his traditional lands that Jason has honoured in the newly completed artwork in the Boulder Road building. ‘The basic theme that runs through the painting is a central waterhole, which I believe depicts the meeting place or a place to come together’, said Jason. ‘Then there is a goanna and a snake. For me the goanna represents a protector of the land, the area that’s around here. And the snake represents the protector of the waterhole. So there’s the water and the land, being the goldfields in the Kalgoorlie area; or the Karlgurla area as we call it. Karlgurla means the silky pear which grows in abundance here, and those silky pears ring the whole dome [artwork]…’
‘There are some personal symbols throughout the painting too’, he said. ‘The way that the goanna is pointed north represents for me, on a personal and artistic level, the strength and power of my father… And the snake, pointing south, reminds me of my mother, in terms of being able to get through and adapt…as she faced difficult tasks and was able to get through’.
Jason drew on that strong personal and artistic legacy in tackling the project. ‘The wall paints that I worked with were very different to the paints I use on canvas’, he said. ‘Í know mine [canvas paints] off by heart, but these wall paints were unpredictable. I had to work out which ones drip a bit more, which ones I’d have to double-dot or come back and check, and which ones take longer to dry simply because of the pigment and make-up of them… It was pretty fiddly at times, and I was using unconventional methods such as pieces of dowel and then foam pads [make-up pads] on sticks, and using those to dot with’.
More challenging for Jason at times was the physicality of keeping his balance on the scaffolding for hours at a time. ‘I was standing at times, crouching and kneeling at times, and I ended up with sore knees and a sore neck…’ he said. ‘I was pretty much using all my leg muscles to keep my balance all day. My partner Jeanette was very helpful; she was there alongside me most of the way. We created a little pulley system where we had a bucket with a rope and I’d pull the bucket up with all the materials in [it]. It took about 14 days to complete and it would have taken a lot longer if Jeanette hadn’t been there to help’.
When asked how he knew the artwork was complete, Jason said: ‘Finishing a painting or piece of art is sometimes more difficult than it seems. I felt like I had to get down, and look at it, and then get back up again. I did that about five or six times before I was happy with it’. After watching her husband climb up and down the 14-foot scaffold numerous times, it was Jeanette who finally insisted that the artwork was complete. ‘I think the moment when my wife told me to stop was when I finally finished off’, said Jason. ‘An artist generally knows when a job’s done, but a little encouragement helps!’