A Walmajarri man of the Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia, John Prince Siddon (b. 1964) came to painting later in life. Having spent his younger years working on cattle stations, a horse-riding accident truncated Prince’s life as a stockman and instead led him to Mangkaja Arts in Fitzroy Crossing. Although Prince only joined the art centre in 2009, his connection to Mangkaja runs deep. His father, Jirtin Pompey Siddon, was among one of its founding members – an artist in his own right.
As a painter, Prince is as distinct as he is prolific; “Once I learnt to paint, I just couldn’t stop.” His riotous mix of surreal figuration and traditional mark-making, psychedelic compositions painted in technicolour tones, has forged a unique narrative style. Using whatever surface is close at hand – canvas and board, but also bullock skulls, possum and kangaroo pelts, ngurti (coolamon), scrap tin, even satellite dishes – Prince collapses his personal history with national stories and narrangkarni (ancestral creation stories) to create kaleidoscopic visions of contemporary Australian life.
 John Prince Siddon quoted by Emilia Galatis, All Mixed Up: John Prince Siddon, Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre, 6 February – 22 March, 2020, exhibition catalogue, p2
Articles and Books
All Mixed Up: John Prince Siddon.Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre, 6 February – 22 March, 2020. Exhibition catalogue.
Cumpston, Nici. Tarnanthi 2021. Exhibition catalogue. Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia, 2021.
Eccles, Jeremy. “Wadjuk in the Black”. Aboriginal Art Directory, 25 February, 2020.
John Prince Siddon – Hatching Time. Abbotsford: Chapman & Bailey,16 October – 21 November, 2020. Exhibition catalogue.
Johnson, Miranda. “Ancient and modern intertwine.” Seesaw Magazine, 18 February, 2020
Jorgensen, Darren. “All Mixed Up.” Semaphore Art, 18 February, 2020.
McDonald, John. “John Prince Siddon: eclectic, gothic and psychedelic.”Sydney Morning Herald, 26 February, 2020.
McDonald, John. “'No boundaries': John Prince Siddon brings an original dynamic to Indigenous art.” Sydney Morning Herald, 6 November, 2020.
Smith, Barnaby.“Prince and the Revolution.”Art Guide Australia, 7 February, 2020.
Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency. “John Prince Siddon”.
This Q&A featured in Tarnanthi: Make and Create, an activity book designed for children.
What made you become an artist?
After an accident I wasn’t able to work as a stockman any more. I had so many ideas and I was bored so I started to paint all kinds of things to pass the time. Now once I started I just couldn’t stop.
How would you describe your work?
Well to me I’m still mixing stories, painting them better than one, somebody has to do it. As Burke and Wills, what a true Aussie. I am making my own stories and making them fit altogether. I’m trying to piece together every animals – North, South, East West – trying to mix them up like a jigsaw – they love each other they hate each other. Landscape, dreamtime stories, kid’s paintings, poetry, animals; put them all together, it’s all the same with my paintings.
What is the role of an artist?
I see that art is always a part of my life and it’s really important for me to tell my stories this way, get them out and share them with the world. If I can say what I want to say I can say it through my art and that can help change people's ideas about art that is made in remote communities.
What do you enjoy about making art?
There are no rules and it helps me get out all my worries. I get worried watching the news and thinking about what is going on in the world and what is happening in my community all around me. I feel sad and get stressed out – art is a way for me to deal with these issues and communicate with the outside world.
Who inspired you?
These kind people and animals and the things are my true blue heroes, not the ones you see on the movies, local hero make you think twice sometimes, make you cry, laugh most of the stories are true. It’s not about getting a top model or the brave things they done. It’s who you are as a person or animals they deserve to be who they once was many untold stories out there today.
Hear from John Prince Siddon
Lisa Slade in convo with John Prince Siddon, Emilia Galatis and Liam Kennedy
Walmajarri people were displaced and relocated through systems of colonisation, resulting in them being exploited as unpaid labourers on cattle stations across the region. Investigate the impact that invasion has had on the Walmajarri people.
Prince often paints about local and global events, notably the 2020 bush fires on Kangaroo Island in South Australia. His imagery of these incidents is combined with the ancestral stories of his desert homeland to create scenes with patterns and dazzling spectrum of colour. In some instances, Siddon has used elements from his paintings to create a tessellated pattern. Using a significant event as inspiration design your own tessellated pattern.
In a 2020 Sydney Morning Herald article about Prince, critic John McDonald stated: ‘Siddon has more in common with Hieronymus Bosch than Papunya Tula’.
In ‘Prince and the Revolution, an article featured in Art Guide Australia 2020, writer Barnaby Smith wrote: ‘Siddon is a dazzling mixture of Rover Thomas and often confronting imagery of avant-garde filmmaker Alexander Jodorowsky’
- Divide the class into two and debate one of these statements, research and use works of art as evidence to support your argument.
Prince began painting in 2009 and he likes to paint on different surfaces - from boab nuts to bullock skulls. His work responds to both local and world events which he combines with the ancestral stories of his desert homeland.
The boab tree, also called bottle trees or the tree of life, is native to the northern part of Western Australia. Prince loves boab trees - they produce large nuts that are a great source of food and medicine. They also make great art!
Have you ever seen a boab tree? If not take a look at the photograph below by artist James Tylor.
Create your own sculpture
Using the boab nut template, take inspiration from Princes’ bold patterns to create your own colourful designs inspired by what matters to you most. You might draw inspiration from your favourite animal or the patterns you see in nature or where you live.
Select colours from nature and a favourite animal.
Draw your designs, you can be completely random with these. We have used oil pastels but you can use pencils or textas too!
Cut out your designs and slot them into one another and your boab nut design is complete.
At nearly two-and-a-half metres long, John Prince Siddon’s Mix it all up (2019) can be likened to a twenty-first century history painting. Taking on the epic subject of Australia, Prince has tasked himself with capturing the nation’s contradictions and complexities, compressing geography, time, its multiple histories and mythologies using an eclectic palette. Far from being didactic though, Prince’s national portrait is purposefully puzzling. Animals like the crocodile, redback spider, barramundi, the now-extinct Tasmanian tiger vie and jostle for space on the canvas; they comprise a cast of characters that shape the literal and psychological edge of Australia.
Many of our old people did most painting of their own on their own land, they love even the animals. Well to me, I’m doing the same, trying to piece every animal whatever where they from; East, West, South, North – trying to paint them together. Like mix them up, just like a jigsaw. I paint animals who fight each other, hate each other and sometimes love each other.
 John Prince Siddon – Hatching Time, Abbotsford: Chapman & Bailey, 16 October – 21 November, 2020, Exhibition catalogue
In Dedication (2019) Prince has produced another national portrait, this time during the peak of the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires. Prince watched on from his studio as the apocalyptic scenes unfolded across his television screen, witnessing in paint a country in crisis. Dedication pays tribute to the bravery of the fire and police men and women that fought the fires, as well as “people who lost their lives, homes and land, livestock, even animals who lost their home.”
Dedication is also testament to the precarious ecological and political state of contemporary Australia. Two portraits of the current Prime Minister Scott Morrison feature prominently; in Queensland a menagerie of animals dance around him – the koala, in particular, bears a firestick – while in Western Australia an emu mines Morrison’s ear. Prince also summons Walmajarri cosmology:
“The bush man ancestor is blowing didgeridoo water out the ocean. The bush woman on the WA side is very upset because the fire destroyed her land and the place she grew up fishing. Her grandmother is buried somewhere there in an unknown grave, while fire is coming close.”
Prince embeds the knowledge and stories of narrangkarni as powerful lessons for the twenty-first century. His potent mix of desert iconography, contemporary storytelling and political acumen place him in “a long tradition of Kimberley painters who see truth telling, communicating their personal history and lived experiences, as a matter of urgency”
 All Mixed Up: John Prince Siddon, p1
 Emilia Galatis, All Mixed Up: John Prince Siddon, p3
Dissecting Australia: compare and contrast
John Prince Siddon’s Mix it all up takes on the epic subject of Australia, tasking himself with capturing the nation’s contradictions and complexities, compressing geography, time, its multiple histories and mythologies.
- In groups, identify the symbols and objects featured in Mix it all up. What do each of these elements signify? Look at the painting Brush with the Lore by the late Ngarrindjeri artist Trevor Nickolls. How have both artists used symbols to communicate stories about Australian (or world) history?
- Investigate the animals depicted in Mix it all up and collate information about their connection and/or relevance to the story of Australia. Tip: Some of these animals may have been introduced while other are now extinct.
- What would Australia be like without Koalas? Sadly, Koalas are closer to extinction than we think and their numbers are in rapid decline in some parts of Australia. Select an endangered or threatened Australian species and create a painting as a tribute to this animal. What steps need to be taken to save this animal? Write a letter to the Environment Minister requesting action.
The History of Australia, 2018 by Melbourne based artist Richard Lewer is a nine-panel work of art exploring a national narrative. Travelling through time this work references moments in Australian history. While each panel depicts imagery suggestive of specific moments that have shaped Australia, collectively the work explores broader concepts of encounters, conflict and unrest.
- Identify the major events in each of Lewer’s panels and place them in chronological order.
- ‘Australia’ is just over 200 years old but scientific evidence tells us that Aboriginal people have been here for at least 50,000 years. Why do you think the majority of events depicted in The History of Australia are from the last 200 years?
How are Mix it all up and The History of Australia similar? Create your own visual history or national portrait of Australia. What significant moments will you choose to include, which will you leave out and why?
In Dedication (2019) Prince has produced another national portrait, this time during the peak of the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires. This work also pays tribute to the bravery of the fire and police men and women that fought the fires, as well as people who lost their lives, homes and land, livestock, even animals who lost their homes.
- Select a current political or social issue impacting Australia today. Investigate this event or issue. What questions do you have? Investigate injustices surrounding this issue and create a work of art or piece of writing in response to your concerns or pays tribute to people involved in the event.
Tarnanthi is presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia with Principal Partner BHP and support from the Government of South Australia
The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.
This education resource has been developed and written in collaboration Dr. Belinda Howden, Kylie Neagle and Dr. Lisa Slade.