Born Old Greensvale Station (now Bow River Station)
Rammey Ramsey is a senior Gija man of Jungurra skin. His country and that of both his parents is a part of Gija country, near Elgee Cliffs, to the west of Bedford Downs. His Gija name, Warlawoon, is the general name for that area of country.
Rammey Ramsey lived in Warlawoon country, walking in the bush with his family when very young. He later moved to Bedford Downs, then to Landsdowne Station and finally to Bow River Station, where he has lived ever since. He was renowned as a horse breaker during his many years as a stockman.
Ramsey began painting for Jirrawun Arts in the year 2000. In October that year, he exhibited with Hector Jandany, Timmy Timms and Paddy Bedford at William Mora Galleries, Melbourne in Gaagembi – poor things, an exhibition whose title is a term of endearment, sympathy and sorrow. It is used by many people to express feelings about country and a way of life that is mostly lost to them. In March 2001, Ramsey was one of the painters featured in Four men, four paintings at Raft Artspace, Darwin. His solo exhibition there in the following May was a sellout.
A key figure in the production of the Bedford Downs massacre Joonba that was staged at the 2000 Telstra Art Award, Ramsey is an inspired dancer and teacher of dance. He and Rusty Peters made the dance poles used in the original Joonba. He was also an actor and dancer with the Neminuwarlin Performance Group in its production of Fire, fire burning bright, incorporating the Joonba which premiered at the Perth International Festival of the Arts in 2002 and subsequently opened the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts.
Rammey Ramsey is true to his law, painting only country that he has rights to through birth and family. Most of his paintings are of the stunning gorge country north west of Halls Creek in an area surrounding Elgee Cliffs. The painting and the man are the essence of strength and tenderness. The paint is applied with love and vigour, the dots like pearls stitched on a bed of pink and black raw silk. Images of hills, cliffs, rock wallaby holes, camping places, rivers, rocks in the riverbed, waterholes, roads, stockyards and meeting places appear as distillations of important features of the landscape. A line might be a road or a river, a circle a waterhole, a camping place or a cave; rectangles, stock yards or hills.
In recent paintings, the artist has evolved the dynamics of his artistic language. Red paint surrounding black representational forms of hills, rivers and stockyards has been transformed into an atmospheric field that moves in degrees from white-pink to red. Observing his great friend Paddy Bedford painting one morning, Ramsey said that he wished to paint the ngarranggarni way. Technically, this is the mixing of two colours wet-in-wet on the surface of the canvas to create the strokes and rhythm of the brush; spiritually, it is a way of representing the elements of earth, wind, fire and water. The paintings are an important development in Gija art because they convey the language of natural elements, so crucial in Aboriginal communication and the foreseeing of events. Evoking exquisite visions of the Kimberley – heat and dust, the smoke of a grass fire, clouds of mist and rain – several new works were seen in Sydney at Sherman Galleries in Beyond the Frontier (2005).
Rammey Ramsey has spent a lifetime quietly in the bush, working as a stockman and caring for his family. His real father died before he was born and his mother died of snakebite when he was a baby. Retired and now working as a painter, he continues his role as a loving husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. His paintings are an expression of a humble, gentle man who has known the hardships and beauty of life.
(Adapted from a text by Frances Kofod and Tony Oliver. © Jirrawun Arts 2004)
2004 Rammey Ramsey: Deeper than paint on canvas, William Mora Galleries, Melbourne
2003 Rammey Ramsey, Raft Artspace, Darwin
2001 Rammey Ramsey, Raft Artspace, Darwin
2005 Beyond the Frontier, Sherman Galleries, Sydney
2003 Jirrawun jazz, Raft Artspace, Darwin
2001 Four men, four paintings, Raft Artspace Darwin
2000 Gaagembi – poor things, William Mora Galleries, Melbourne