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.[1]

[1] John Prince Siddon – Hatching Time, Abbotsford: Chapman & Bailey, 16 October – 21 November, 2020, Exhibition catalogue

John Prince Siddon, Walmajarri people, Western Australia, born Derby, Western Australia 1964, Mix it all up, 2019, Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 120.0 x 240.0 cm, Acquisition through Tarnanthi: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art supported by BHP 2020 Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide © John Prince Siddon/Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency

John Prince Siddon, Walmajarri people, Western Australia, born 1964, Derby, Western Australia, Australia: Mix it all up, 2019, Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 120.0 x 240.0 cm; Acquisition through Tarnanthi: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art supported by BHP 2020, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, © John Prince Siddon | Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency.

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.”[1]

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.”[2]

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”[3]

[1] All Mixed Up: John Prince Siddon, p1

[2] Ibid.

[3] Emilia Galatis, All Mixed Up: John Prince Siddon, p3

John Prince Siddon, Walmajarri people, Western Australia, born Derby, Western Australia 1964, Dedication, 2019, Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 120.0 x 120.0 cm, Acquisition through Tarnanthi: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art supported by BHP 2020 Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide © John Prince Siddon/Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency

John Prince Siddon, Walmajarri people, Western Australia, born 1964, Derby, Western Australia, Dedication, 2019, Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 120.0 x 120.0 cm; Acquisition through Tarnanthi: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art supported by BHP 2020, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, © John Prince Siddon | Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency.

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.

Trevor Nickolls, Ngarrindjeri people, South Australia, born 8 /06/1949, Adelaide, South Australia, died 2012, Adelaide, South Australia, Brush with the Lore, 2010, Adelaide, synthetic polymer paint on linen, 119.5 x 182.5 cm; Acquisition through Tarnanthi: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art supported by BHP 2018, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, © Estate of Trevor Nickolls/Copyright Agency.

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.

John Prince Siddon with his work at Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle, Western Australia, 2020; image courtesy the artist and Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency. Photo credit: Susie Blatchford, Pixel Poetry.

John Prince Siddon

Psychedelic compositions and techni-colour tones

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.