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Janangoo Butcher Cherel

Janangoo Butcher Cherel

1920 - 2009

Like many of his generation, Butcher Cherel Janangoo started painting relatively late in life. His quick mind and enthusiasm for the art that gave his traditional culture new life and expression never dimmed. He painted consistently until just before his death in 2009, at the age of 90. His paintings are often treasured by their owners and seldom appear for resale. Many are held around the world in collections both public and private. He put his hand to many mediums, including printmaking, watercolour and acrylic on canvas, experimenting with techniques and a repertoire of marks, dots and lines. Though his subject matter is always related to his culture and country, it never constrains the infusion of his own perspective and experiences derived from a long and eventful life. He was officially recognised as one of Western Australia’s State Living Treasures in 2005. Born at Jalganjoowa on Fossil Downs Station, one of the oldest homesteads in the Southern Kimberley, Cherel’s Gija mother and Goonninyandi father instructed him in traditional law and language. Like them, he worked on the cattle station, both as butcher (hence his name) and drover, often driving cattle far afield. He later remembered these times as being ‘real hard’. He eventually retired and settled at Fitzroy Crossing and in his late sixties turned his hand to painting. His work gives us a glimpse into his cultural and physical environment, telling us stories about food, flora and fauna, land formations and sites of Dreamtime significance. He often depicts microscopic details of bush food, vegetation, ceremonial dress and body painting, using these as the basis for patterns that resonate within the canvas but also seem to extend outwardly beyond its frame. His images are precisely drawn using bold black lines, often with a central figurative motif holding sway. He tells us stories of personal experience and spiritual significance. Though a cache of early works was later discovered, he was taken up exclusively by Mangkaja Arts in 1992 and his career began to build slowly yet consistently. He liked to turn up to his corner in the painting room and work diligently throughout the day on ideas that he had been considering the evening before, “with my eyes, my heart and with my brain,” as he said. He always produced works of high quality and his generosity in sharing his knowledge and encouragement was well known. As a key elder of the Gooniyandi people, he was instrumental in the retention of law ceremony within the Muluja Community. He felt uneasy about the young people no longer having this tradition to fall back upon. He felt it to be fundamental to his people’s sense of identity and wellbeing. He participated in the Gooniyandi claim for land rights. Butcher was a man of great character and dignity and was often present at art openings, sometimes as far afield as Sydney and Fremantle, and always ‘elegantly bearded and invariably hatted’.  Before his passing, Butcher was considered to be a senior statesman of Aboriginal art, his leadership and presence widely sought after. He work can be difficult to categorise because of his innovative approach, but at the same time it is invariably appealingly and contemporary. Australian Art collector and media man Kerry Stokes once walked into a solo show and bought the lot. Butcher’s work can be seen in national galleries and major collections.    Profile author: Sophie Pierce

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