Billy Thomas Biography

View Billy Thomas paintings

Billy was born around 1920 in the bush near Billiluna, WA. His group had no contact with non-Aboriginal people. He saw his first white person as a boy when he was cooking a goanna and a stockman rode up to him on a horse and offered him an apple. As a teenager he worked as a stockman droving cattle along the Canning Stock Route. At one point he met up with the late Rover Thomas who was then a young boy filling water buckets at Kuka Banyu (Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route). The two worked together on and off during their time on the Canning. Around the time of the Second World War, Billy's stock work brought him to Derby where he was hired as a police tracker. Travelling unarmed through the bush in search of fugitives he often had to subdue them with his bare hands. During one of his 'holidays' from police work he was shot through the leg by a crook at Rugan (Crocodile Hole) near Turkey Creek, WA and has walked with a limp ever since. After his days as a tracker, Billy went back to stock work and worked for many years as a drover before retiring to the Mud Springs Aboriginal community near Kununurra, WA.

Billy did not begin painting until 1995 when he walked into Waringarri Arts and asked if he could have some 'cardboard' (as he calls canvases), to paint on. 

Shortly thereafter, Billy's artwork was exhibited in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in Darwin. He held his first solo exhibition at Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs. Having held several successful solo exhibitions, including two sell out shows with William Mora Galleries, Melbourne, in 1997 and the other in Sydney in 1998, Billy has emerged as one of Australia's leading Aboriginal painters. He now occasionally paints for Warlayirti Artists in Balgo.

As a senior medicine man, Billy's role is crucial in traditional ceremonies, decision making and the initiation of boys into Aboriginal law. Subsequently, his knowledge of sacred sites, stories and ceremony is immense and in some of his painting, comprises a major part of the 'hidden' iconography. Billy 'dots' over the entire work and scrapes back parts of the white ochre to uncover only the aspects of his history and knowledge he wishes to reveal. His work incorporates this Western desert iconography with a vibrance and energy that is uniquely his own. 

 

COLLECTIONS

Australian National Gallery, Canberra
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Museum and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Darwin
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Kerry Stokes Collection
Mary M'acha Collection
Australian Capital Equity, Perth
Wesfarmers Collection, Perth
Edith Cowan University, Perth
Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art, Utrecht
Kununurra Police Station Public Art Project, Kununurra (Commission)
Halls Creek Police Station Public Art Project, Halls Creek (Commission)
Private Collections in Australia, Japan, Germany, USA, Belgium and France


    EXHIBITIONS

    2015  No Boundaries: Aboriginal Australian Contemporary Abstract Painting, drawn from the collection of Miami based collectors, Debra and Dennis Scholl, Nevada Museum of Art, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, Pérez Art Museum Miami, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University
    2006  L’art aborigène contemporain, Arts d’Australie, Stéphane Jacob / Médiathèque Cathédrale de Reims, Reims
    2004  Colour Power - Aboriginal Art Post 1984, National Gallery of Victoria, Federation Square, Melbourne
    2004  EXPLAINED, A closer look at Aboriginal art, Aboriginal Art Museum, Utrecht, Holland
    2002  An Artists Survey, Balgo Hills, at Hogarth Galleries, Paddington
    2001  Dixième Biennale Internationale de la Gravure, Arts d'Australie,Stéphane Jacob, Sarcelles
    2001  Australie,Visages d’un continent, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob, Galerie Visages de l'Art, Marly-le-Roi
    2001  Robert Lindsay Gallery, Melbourne
    2001  Thornquest Gallery, Gold Coast
    2001  Red Rock Art, Cullen Bay Gallery, Darwin
    2001  Red Rock Art, Depot Gallery, Sydney
    2000  Cowara House, Brisbane
    2000  17th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, Northern Territory Museum and Art Galleries, Darwin
    2000  Arts d’Australie, Stéphane Jacob, Espace Mezzo, Avenue des Champs-Elysées, Paris
    2000  Accents Australiens, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob, Espace Adamski Designs, Paris.
    1999  16th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, Northern Territory Museum and Art Galleries, Darwin
    1999  Australie – Art, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob, J.L. Amsler - Bastille, Paris.
    1998  15th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, Northern Territory Museum and Art Galleries, Darwin
    1998  William Mora Galleries, Sydney - Held at the Mary Place Gallery, Sydney
    1998  Le Temps du Rêve, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob, Bibliothèque municipale, Le Perreux-sur-Marne
    1998  Propositions Australiennes, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob / galerie Luc Queyrel, Paris
    1997  William Mora Galleries, Melbourne
    1997  14th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, Northern Territory Museum and Art Galleries, Darwin
    1996  13th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, Northern Territory Museum and Art Galleries, Darwin
    1996  William Mora Galleries, Melbourne
    1996  Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs