Jarinyanu David Downs

1925 – 1995
Jarinyanu David Downs (c. 1925-1995), Wangkajunga-Walmajarri painter, printmaker and preacher, lived a traditional life in the Great Sandy Desert of West Australia until he was a young man. Moving to the Northern Territory in the late 1940s, he worked as a drover and miner. He converted to Baptist Christianity in the mid 1960s, and became a church elder at Fitzroy Crossing. Shortly after this he began to make shields, boomerangs and coolamons decorated with ochre; he began painting figuratively on paper, shields and canvas in the early 1980s. Many of his works include Christian imagery, and some combine his traditional stories and personal experiences with Baptist stories; his body of work expresses his philosophy that we 'gotta make 'em whole lot one family'. Downs was represented in many group exhibitions in the 1980s and 1990s.

He had come to terms with the concept of individual fame brought keenly into focus by viewing his own work in art galleries, and the experience of having his portrait painted and hung in the Archibald Prize. His ability to negotiate his way in the white world no doubt had great influence on his success. He was one of three Walmajarri artists at Fitzroy crossing that began painting on canvas through private representation as individual artists. Jarinyanu along with Peter Skipper Jangkarti were represented by Duncan Kentish, whilst Jimmy Pike, whose career began in Fremantle prison in 1980, was represented by Steve Culley and David Wroth of Desert Designs. Individual representation brought many rewards, particularly solo exhibitions in galleries such as Bonython-Meadmore Gallery in 1988, Roar 2 Studios in 1991, Chapman Gallery in 1993, and Ray Hughes in Sydney in 1995, where always resplendent in his white shirt and pants, he was presented as a contemporary artist alongside non-Indigenous artists.

Jarinyanu David Downs enjoyed a highly successful career encompassing sculptural artifacts, painting and a significant body of limited edition prints. He was one of the earliest Aboriginal artists to be individually represented and, at the time of his death, was considered one of the leading lights of the contemporary Aboriginal art movement.