Regina Wilson - Paintings & Fabrics - New Directions

Regina Wilson’s paintings have their genesis in the intricate patterns of traditional weaving. Now, in a serendipitous loop, she’s painted three designs specifically for fabrics in unique artisan collaboration with Koskela - Susie Burge reports


I meet Regina Pilawuk Wilson on a busy Friday afternoon in a busy inner precinct of Australia’s busiest city. Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay-Kings Cross-Potts Point triangle is a far cry from the tiny Aboriginal community of Peppimenarti (Peppi for short) in northwest Northern Territory where Wilson lives and works. She’s here for just a couple of days, to celebrate the double event of a show at Michael Reid Gallery and the launch of her collaboration with furniture & homewares company Koskela.

Regina Wilson is softly spoken, thoughtful. She’s in her sixties and still beautiful, with an engaging calm energy and luminous smile. She’s methodical, painting every morning from 8 -12. When I ask about her practice, she tells me it requires two to three months of daily work to complete a picture, using a very fine paintbrush, acrylic paint and archival pens. She’s a celebrated weaver and still makes occasional items for the Aboriginal Art Fair in Darwin each year, dilly bags made of sand palm fibres dyed with colours derived from berries and roots. Afternoons are devoted to her role as a senior elder in the community and in wider indigenous and arts organisations.


Regina Wilson, Syaw (fish net), 2011, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 200cm

Peppi may be small, but its Durrmu Arts Aboriginal Corporation is known for nurturing extraordinary talent in textiles, painting and printmaking. With her late husband Harry, Regina was the founding member of the community of Ngan’gikurrungurr people who left Daly River mission in the early seventies. Her recent paintings add an extra dimension to the already acclaimed creative spirit of the place. These canvasses are just so joyful. They are almost girlish in their lipstick and lolly pink palette, their intricate pretty patterning that is never restrictive. The grounding comes from roots in traditional patterns, the fine, skilful brushwork, and the soulful depth behind the shimmering decorative surface.


Regina Wilson, Wargardi (Dilly Bag), 2011, acrylic on linen, 120 x 200cm

Gallerist Michael Reid speaks of them as “joyous paintings, linking Regina’s weaving heritage with international contemporary art”. He reminds me that Wilson was, after all, invited to exhibit in the 3rd Moscow Biennale. I’m in agreement with Mr Reid and a number of serious collectors in Australia (Wilson is also represented in significant public collections) and beyond - I think they are transcendent paintings. They are based on the patterns of fishnets (syaw) and dilly bags but move into different territory.

The second (and ongoing) component of the exhibition is the launch of the collaboration with Sydney-based furniture & homewares company Koskela. Wilson was aware of Koskela through its ongoing successful partnership with Elcho island women, the company’s first design project with an indigenous community. “Regina was interested in trying something new,” says co-owner Sasha Titchkosky. She and husband Russell Koskela met Wilson and Durrmu Arts coordinator Harriet Fesq at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair 2009. “They knew we were very respectful and it would be a genuine collaboration.” The artist developed three designs based on fish net (Syaw), dilly bag (Wargardi), and traditional message stick markings. Then there was another fairly lengthy process of finding the right way to turn these paintings into fabric. “In the end we started working with specialised digital printers because they could reproduce her work down to the last brushstroke,” says Titchkosky.


Koskela is a rare company, mindful of cultural and ethical issues, founded on the “desire to explore what we could do more broadly within a social context – this is one of the reasons for having our business,” states Titchkosky. The collaboration with Regina Wilson means a fee to the artist each time an item is sold, as well as the original commission. The result is covetable: thick linen throws destined to be heirloom collectables, beautiful artisan cushions in heavy linen or silk, and a lighter linen fabric by the metre available on order.

Susie Burge, all rights reserved

Photo credits: courtesy of the artist & Caruana & Reid Fine Art, Andrew Cowen images for Koskela, portrait of Regina Wilson by Vanessa Bellemore.
(Note: exhibition at Michael Reid ends December 2)