"As pop used to say, 'your painting must have a story'.” Tamika Elvin fondly remembers days painting with her grandfather, Les, in his shed at home in the lower Hunter region of Cessnock.
"He had painted the shadow of an emu, and told me to finish it. I had to have a story. I felt a bit confused about what my story would be, and how I would paint it, so we sat there and talked about it. The shadow of the emu represented the spirit of it and I then knew I wanted to paint the hunter, I still have this painting, that we worked on together, hanging on my wall. That was when I realised I should embrace my culture more. When I paint now, I can feel pop’s presence with me," Tamika told NITV.
This was in no way a rare situation for Uncle Les. He was well known in the community for his legacy of inspiring and empowering young Indigenous locals to take pride in their Aboriginality, and connect with the stories of their past.
A proud descendant of the Wonnarua people, Elvin didn’t fully connect with his Aboriginal background until later in his life. This disconnect was reflected in his first pieces of artwork in landscape and portrait painting which will also form part of the exhibition.
Robina Booth, curator of the exhibition, laments Les’ passing, especially at a time when he was at the height of his creative power, producing amazing works representing the symbolism of the Wonnarua people.
“Les wanted to keep the story of his people alive, and open up a dialogue between both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to highlight the value of Aboriginal culture to everyone.”
The exhibition will highlight Elvin’s four last works, along with four traditional funeral poles, painted by his daughter, accomplished painter Lesley Salem.
The collection will include paintings by Mrs Salem and three of his grandchildren, Alex, Tamar and Tamika. Also included, are works by Saretta Fielding and Justin Ridgeway who both worked with, and were mentored by Uncle Les.
The exhibition is a testament to the inclusive nature of Les Elvin’s personality - three generations of his family’s stories, hung in the same gallery to honour his inspiration.
Tamika Elvin is proud to share her family's art in an exhibition dedicated to Elvin and what he has done for Aboriginal people.
“My Aunty will pass the lessons of our artwork and storytelling down to me as pop did to her. “
The exhibition, 'I Won't Be Long: A Tribute to Les Elvin', opens Wednesday, April 20, at the Cessnock Regional Art Gallery, and closes on June 5.
The official opening will be attended by Les Elvin’s family and will take place on April 23 at 5pm.