A Conversation with Timo Hogan, Noli Rictor and Riley Adams Brown from Spinifex Arts Project

EMILY KAM KNGWARRAY, Alhalkere - My Country
Timo Hogan painting Lake Baker in the studio, 2023. Image courtesy of Spinifex Arts Project.

Uwankara Uṯuḻu: All Together, currently on view in our New York gallery, showcases the work of two generations of Spinifex artists, those for whom ‘painting secured what has always been known, their irrevocable right to Country, together with those who were inspired by these very same painters to represent their own rights through the medium of paint on linen.’

We recently spoke to artists Timo Hogan and Noli Rictor, and Studio Manager Riley Adams Brown from the Spinifex Arts Project about the impact founding artists such as Simon Hogan, Lawrence Pennington, Fred and Ned Grant and others have had on the younger generation of artists.

D’C: Riley, you wrote in your essay, that ‘painting was originally a tool the Spinifex people used to claim their birth right. Can you tell us more about this?

RAB: The original Native title paintings of the late nineties mapped out the birth places of the native title claimants within the Spinifex region. These paintings provided explicit proof of their sovereign right over the vast deserts of the Spinifex region (The Great Victorian Desert) and highlighted the power of paint as a medium to tell stories to the wider world on the artists’ terms. The Spinifex claim resulted in the first Native title area on the mainland of Australia; and area which encapsulated over 21,000 square miles. These original paintings were gifted to the people of Western Australia by the first Spinifex painters and are now under the custodianship of the Western Australian Museum.

D’C: How significant was the impact of founding artists such as Simon Hogan, Lawrence Pennington, Fred, and Ned Grant and others on the younger generation of artists?

RAB: The founding artists of the project commanded the attention of the art market creating space for the ongoing creative vibrancy of the next generation.

TH: The old people they painted under trees and in tents, they had no studio. They made sure we had a studio, they worked really hard to build this place and make sure we had this art centre.

NR: I saw those old people working, painting all day. My brother Ian Rictor was one of those painters, they did really well, lots of people wanted to listen to their stories, their stories were powerful. I thought, I could do this too.

D’C: How does this younger generation – Timo Hogan, Noli Rictor, Dora Parker and others, differ from their elders?

RAB: The younger generation of artists in Tjuntjuntjara community have experienced different lives to their parents and grandparents who started the arts project. Most have existed with the presence of the colonial project for most, if not all of their lives. The work from these younger artists cements the strength of culture among the Spinifex people as they continue to paint the stories and Law of their ancestral homelands unfettered by the intrusion of western colonial hegemony.

TH: We paint a different way because we have different stories…different lives. My father taught me every story, all the Tjukurpa. He told me the stories from corner to corner. I have different stories and I mix my life with his.

NR: I was born like the old people. I grew up the same way. No clothes, no rifles, and no cigarettes. We were really fit back then. I saw the old people painting and thought, that’s keeping them strong.

D’C: From the origins of the Arts Project, twenty-five years ago, how has its place – and what that represents – within and to the community, and beyond, changed since then?

RAB: The Spinifex Arts Project propels itself forward on the same wave of momentum that was sparked during painting camps deep in Spinifex country over 25 years ago. As the project developed the artists continued to drive their practice no matter how little resources they had, until, over time, they gathered enough resources to build a purpose-built art centre in Tjuntjuntjara community, the most remote community in Australia. The Spinifex Arts Project has become a vital part of the Tjuntjuntjara community and a major part of people’s everyday lives and continues to thrive under the management of the Spinifex people, inspiring the next generation to pick up the brush and tell their stories.

Nori Rictor painting Kamanti, 2023. Image courtesy of Spinifex Arts Project.



D’C: In a world that is becoming increasingly globalised, what can we – and what should we – learn from the art of the Spinifex people?


RAB: There are innumerable lessons that could be learnt from the Spinifex people. The contemporary paintings share the stories of the formation of the world intertwined with moral teachings and lessons of powerful cultural law. These painters look inward and form the foundations of their practice. They not only continue to live on the ancestral homelands; they are a part of it.


When an artist paints a waterhole or sand dune, they are not only painting their landscape; they are painting themselves, exploring why and how they came into existence. The power that the Spinifex People feel on their land inspired and informed their art practice within their specific, local history. Many of the lessons intertwined in these paintings are inaccessible to those who do not possess the knowledge of the Spinifex People and the spirituality it represents. The ancestral stories are complex and nuanced and are embedded in a region few will ever visit.


However, there is a universal message that the Spinifex people express in their work, which is the need to belong in both body and spirit. This innate belonging is a common thread throughout the works of the Spinifex people. Although the Spinifex people represent their ancestral stories of their Country, their teachings could not be more relevant in the face of increasing globalisation. Asserting culture through painting is a reminder that being connected to one’s environment, heritage and community gives one a powerful sense of belonging and pride.

Uwankara Uṯuḻu: All Together
D’Lan Contemporary New York, until April 5 2024