Bush Springtime, Mhutti Mhutti


Tribe: Yorta Yorta & Mhutti Mhutti Area: Victoria Born: 1975 to 5/9/2015

Craig Charles is a Melbourne-based painter with Yorta Yorta heritage on his father’s side, and Mhutti Mhutti heritage on his mother’s side. Born in 1975 in Mildura, in Latje Latje country, Charles was raised by his great grandparents, Betty Charles, a descendant of the Djara people, and Ron Murray, a descendant of the Wamba Wamba/Lake Boga people. Creativity was part of his life from an early age: the artist remembers listening to stories and drawing with Betty and his siblings at the kitchen table from the age of four. His formal training in art began in 1996, first at the Sunraysia TAFE in Mildura, and then at the Mildura Campus of La Trobe University, where Charles completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1998. As Charles has written in his masters thesis exegesis, a turning point came when an art lecturer “told me about my ability to raise awareness of the ‘Koori’ plight, through art”. Since then Charles’ art practice has been concerned with celebrating Aboriginal people’s resilience, paying tribute to family, ancestors and country, and sharing experiences and stories with wider society. Having lost a number of family members and friends from the Victorian Koori community over the years, creativity of all forms has become a means to draw strength and to heal: the artist describes it as “an amazing form of medicine”.

In 2006 Craig Charles completed a Masters of Fine Arts at RMIT University in Melbourne, during which he pursued these themes and developed technical approaches to articulating them in his work. He has come to draw on a range of artist and natural materials in his paintings for symbolic purposes. For example, gold leaf is frequently employed, as it signifies his respect for his elders and traditional owners. Gold leaf also allows Charles to glorify the country he depicts, such as the Murray River that runs through Latje Latje country, with which he identifies very strongly. The artist has also rubbed his canvases in the earth “to appreciate the physical connection between the image and the land”, and he uses shellac and oil to bind the dust and grains to the work. Other natural materials such as ochres and charcoal also add texture to his paintings. Charles’ works are recognisable for their dramatic figurative and animal forms and their layered, scraped and glossy surfaces. They are often characterised by a well-defined figure/ground relationship, in which negative space forms a bold, semi-abstract component. In a number of works, Betty’s kitchen tablecloth, symbolised by printed decorative patterning, provides a subtle background.

Craig Charles began exhibiting in significant group exhibitions from the mid-1990s, including the National Gallery of Victoria’s “Big Shots Exhibition – We-Iri-We-Homeborn” (1996), the “Art of Place” National Indigenous Heritage Awards exhibitions at Canberra’s Old Parliament House in 1996, 1998 (where he was highly commended in the Emerging Artist section) and 2000, and the touring exhibition “Native Title Business: Contemporary Aboriginal Art” (2002).

In 2000 he held his first solo exhibition “Nana Bett and Me” at Melbourne’s Alcaston Gallery and that same year Charles also established his own dance group, The Black Crow Dancers, which toured Singapore, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka. As a young child he was a member of the Latje-Latje Dance Group in Mildura, and alongside painting, dance remains a crucial creative outlet for the artist. Since 2000, Charles has held several solo exhibitions, including “City style, Country Youth” at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at the Melbourne Museum in Carlton (2005), “Mungo Stories” at Australia Dreaming Art, Melbourne (2006), “Sense of Self” Solo Exhibition at Original & Authentic Aboriginal Art, celebrating Craig’s personal growth and artistic growth, with a kaleidoscope of 40 works of canvases painted from 2000 to 2006, illustrating Craig’s wide repertoire of technique ad story and most recently “Elders Place”, at the Prahran Town Hall in Melbourne in 2007. The ‘Elders Place’ series pays homage to his great-grandparents, Betty and Ron. The works exemplify the artist’s treatment of painting as an expression of, and extension of, family togetherness and sharing, honouring the spirit of his formative experiences drawing at the kitchen table. The work Nan and Pop’s Campfire Kitchen – Pumpkin Stew from this series is in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, having won the NGV Acquisitive Prize at the Victorian Indigenous Art Awards, 2007. In 2008 Craig Charles was a finalist for the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. Craig Charles’ work is also in the collection of the La Trobe University (as a result of having won the 1997 Colin Barrie Acquisition Scholarship), the Koorie Heritage Trust, and Museum Victoria.


2007 National Gallery of Victoria Acquisitive Prize. 2003 Michael Long Testimonial Award 2000 The Black Crow Dancers – started own dance group, toured through northern Sri Lanka, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia promoting indigenous dance and culture 1998 Highly commended (emerging artist section) The Fourth National Indigenous Heritage Art Award 1997 Artist’s Merit 25 years and under. Russell Savage MLA Award, Sunset in Spring Exhibition 1996 Awarded outstanding Koori student, Victoria Training Awards, Melbourne 1996 Awarded Runner-Up Australian Aboriginal Student of the Year, Australian National Training Awards (ANTA), Brisbane 1997 Awarded the Collin Barrie Acquisition Scholarship, La Trobe University, Mildura


Museum Victoria, Melbourne National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Koori Heritage Trust, Victoria La Trobe University Art Collection, Melbourne & Mildura, Victoria Artbank, Sydney Luciano Benetton ,Fashion House, Presidente, Italy-Private Collection (March 2011) Santana and Cindy Blackman Musicians-Private Collection (March 2011)

Solo Exhibitions

2000 Nanna Bett and Me, Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne 2002 Stories from Nan and Pop, Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne 2005 City Style, Country Youth Bunjilaka Aboriginal Centre Melbourne Museum 2006 “Sense of Self”, Original & Authentic Art Gallery Melbourne ; A Retrospective of 40 works from 2000 – 2006.

Group Exhibitions

1994 to 1996 End of Year Visual Arts Student Exhibitions, Mildura Art Centre, Victoria Just Too Deadly, Linden Art Gallery, St Kilda, Melbourne, VictoriBlackfellas, Grand Central Gallery, Bourke Street Melbourne, Victoria Australian Heritage Art Award, The Old Parliament House, Canberra, ACT 1996 Big Shots Exhibition – We-Iri-We-Homeborn, The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 1998 The Art of Place, Fourth National Indigenous Heritage Art Award, The Old Parliament , Canberra, ACT 1999 Goodies & Oldies, Tandanya Centre, Adelaide, SA 1999 All About Art, Alcaston Galery, Melbourne, Victoria 1999 Which Way Exhibition, Mutti Mara, Midura, Victoria 2000 Nanna Bett and Me, Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne Victoria 2000 Belonging to country, Bunjilaka Aboriginal Gallery, Melbourne Museum 2000 The Art of Place, The Fifth National Indigenous Heritage Art Award, The Old Parliament House, Canberra, ACT & touring: Wagga Wagga Regional Gallery, NSW; Tandanya Aboriginal Cultural Institute, Adelaide, SA; State Library of NSW, Sydney; The Araluen Centre for Arts and Entertainment, Alice Springs, NT; John Curtain Gallery, University of Technology, Perth, WA 2001 All About Art, Alcaston Gallery Melbourne, Victoria 2001 Spirituality & Australian Aboriginal Art, touring exhibition, Department of Culture, Regional Government of Madrid, Spain 2001 Queer Family, Community Group show, Span Galleries, Melbourne, Victoria 2001 Unseen Country, as part of the City of Port Phillip’s ‘Bless Your Big Black Arts’ Festival, St Kilda, Victoria 2001 Scar – A Stolen Vision, a public art installation presented by the city of Melbourne 2002 Spirituality & Australian Aboriginal Art, touring exhibition, sponsored by the regional government of Madrid, Spain, final exhibition Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne 2002 Ab-Normal, Next Wave Festival, Dante’s Upstairs Gallery, Fitzroy, Victoria 2002 Native Title Business: Contemporary Aboriginal Art, National Travelling Exhibition presented by the Gurrang Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, toured by the Regional Galleries Association of Queensland 2002 What’s Going on, Contemporary Indigenous Art, from the Murray Darling Region, Mildura Arts Centre, Victoria 2002 Michael Long Testimonial Award, Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne 2002 Melbourne Art Fair, october 2 – 6, represented by Alcaston Gallery 2002 Inaugural Hang, The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Federation Square, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Omnific, TAP Gallery, Sydney, NSW 2003 Bachelor of Fine Art – Honours Painting & Drawing Graduate Exhibition, RMIT University, Melbourne, Victoria 2005 City Style, Country Youth, Supported By City of Melbourne – Bunjilaka Gallery, Melbourne, Victoria 2005 Djarra Country Gold, Gallery 25, Deakin Ave, Mildura, Feb 2005 2005 Native Title Exhibition, National travelling exhibition, 2001-2005