Born: c 1948
Shirley Purdie was born about 1948 under a tree on Mabel Downs Cattle Station. Here she grew to be a young lady. Shirley was taught by many station managers ’keep house’ doing such chores as ironing, washing, cooking and collecting fresh milk by milking the goats.
In 1967, Shirley moved to Texas Downs Station where she was employed as a maid cleaning tanks and troughs. In her spare time, she dabbled in her painting for extra money, but mainly tucker was exchanged. With the arrival of baby Dean in 1968, Shirley moved to the Warmun Community where she lives today together with her six children, several “Kangai” or grandchildren and ‘them other old people’, including her famous old mother, Madigan Thomas.
Madigan Thomas painted alongside Queenie McKenzie in the early days about 1987 and together they revolutionised the Turkey Creek art movement by mixing new colours of blues and greens as well as continuing with the traditional raw palette of brown, red, yellow, white and black. Shirley learnt to paint under tuition from her mother and “’em old ladies”, including the late Queenie McKenzie and Goodie Barrett. By observing their skills, Shirley found a love for painting the stories of Mabel Downs. Over time, Shirley developed her distinctive style applying very thick crusty ochre to captivate the rugged landforms of her country. Her textured ochre painting characterises many of her paintings. Shirley’s works have been included in many prominent national and international exhibitions. The National Museum of Australia acquired one of Madigan’s paintings.
The surface narrative elements or the painting’s “story” or “Dreaming” are one of the many layers of an Aboriginal painting’s meaning. The imagery utilised by Aboriginal artists has deep cultural resonances that defy logic and narrative interpretations. The western viewer can however intuitively feel the power of this spiritual resonance without necessarily having to understand the details which are known by the initiated.