Gordon Syron’s Biography
Award winning painter Gordon Syron is a self-taught artist who has carved himself a remarkable career which has influenced his peers in the artistic, political and cultural arenas. Syron is known for his political and historical oil paintings many of which were exhibited in two retrospectives, in 1998 and 2004 at the Australian Museum, Sydney. Syron has made many significant contributions to his community, as co-founder of the Eora College with Bobby Merritt, he was also the first art teacher there. From 1997 to 2007 his gallery, Black Fella’s Dreaming, has supported and encouraged new, young and struggling artists.
Gordon Syron was born in 1941 at Nabiac, New South Wales and belongs to the Birpi/Worimi language group. ‘When I was young I could lean off my horse and in seconds have an armful of breathtakingly beautiful wildflowers, I wouldn’t even have to get off my horse to pick them. This Land was sacred to me that is why I chose to paint about it.’
After gaining his Intermediate Certificate in 1959, Syron studied Technical Drawing at Ultimo Technical College, Sydney. He then went on to become an apprentice electrician at the Railway Institute. Other early jobs included working as a lifesaver at Soldiers Beach Budgewoi, a truck driver and a PMG linesman. He also pursued his passion for amateur boxing which resulted in him winning several NSW Golden Gloves awards.
In the 1970s Syron was convicted for murdering his uncle’s adopted son over the inheritance of the family farm. While serving a life sentence at Bathurst Gaol Syron taught himself to paint with some pointers from a prisoner in jail for forgery. It was during this time that Syron painted his famous painting ‘Judgment By His Peers’ (1978), in which a white defendant faces an all-black jury and courtroom inspired by the judge during his court case refusing Syron’s defense counsel’s request for an Aboriginal jurist on the grounds that his client was not black enough to be considered Aboriginal.
‘I painted backdrops for Bobby Merritt’s play called The Cakeman which was one of the first plays written by an Aboriginal man. I was in prison with Bobby. He got out first.’
Syron was released after serving 10 years and between 1982 and 1986, he helped set up Eora Centre, an Indigenous visual and performing arts school in Redfern where he worked as the Visual Arts head teacher. After leaving Eora, Syron worked for two years (1987-1988) as a lecturer in Fine Arts for the Aboriginal Education Unit at the University of Sydney.
Much of Syron’s work reflects his anger and frustration at the oppression and the dispossession he experience as a result of his imprisonment. Many of his landscapes were inspired by his childhood but he explains ‘the mining companies came through this area and took more than a foot-deep of top soil off thousands of acres of our land. They took all the elements and goodness out of the soil. Now the wildflowers don’t grow anymore.’
Some of his most intriguing paintings are part of his series called Aboriginal Fairies. Gordon describes about how the series came about, ‘when I was growing I only ever saw white fairies everywhere in books, so I created Aboriginal fairies for Aboriginal kids, they are everywhere and you just need to look for them.’
Syron’s art gallery, Black Fella’s Dreaming, was in operation from 2002. He also founded the Keeping Place Collection of Aboriginal Art for the preservation of nationally important works of Indigenous art. Syron won the Parliament of New South Wales Aboriginal Art Prize College of Fine Arts Professional Development Award in 2008.
He was the president of the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee in the late 90s. From 1997 to 2007 his gallery, Black Fella’s Dreaming supported and encouraged new, young and struggling artists. The extent of Syron’s work was seen in two retrospectives, the first in 1998 and again in 2004 at the Australian Museum, Sydney. In 2000 he was the artist-in-residence for the Australian Humanist Society, Sydney. In 2004 two of Gordon’s paintings were chosen to be displayed at the Athens’s Olympics and then toured to Beijing to be displayed at the 2008 Olympics. Also in 2004 Syron married photographer and long term partner and agent Elaine Pelot before the cameras of the SBS funded documentary ‘Our Bush Wedding.’
Syron has been described as ‘the father of urban contemporary Aboriginal art’.
A fuller biography of Syron an be found on Design and Art Australian Online.
Red coats / Sydney Heads / Invasion Day
Portraits, including legendary Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil in 1988
‘Opera House Dreaming – NAIDOC’ Parliament of New South Wales Aboriginal Art Prize 2014.
Parliament of NSW Aboriginal Art Award , 2009, Finalist
2008 winner – CoFA Professional Development Award 2008 Winner
25th Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awards 2008
Artist in Residence College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales 2006
Artist in Residence Australian Humanist Society 2000
|2014 – 2017||Work in group exhibition East Coast Encounter, Australian National Maritime Museum Sydney, 9 May 2014 – 24 August 2014, The Glasshouse, Port Macquarie 20 February 2015 – 5 April 2015, Gold Coast City Gallery, 25 April 2015 – 7 June 2015, Caloundra Regional Gallery, 1 July 2015 – 16 August 2015, , Redland Art Gallery, 11 October – 22 November 2015, Fraser Coast Cultural Centre, 4 December 2015 – 22 January 2016, ArtSpace Mackay, 29 January 2016 – 13 March 2016, Nature’s Powerhouse Cooktown, 11 June 2016 – 19 September 2016, Pinnacles Gallery, Townsville 23 September 2016 – 30 October 2016, Caboolture Regional Art Gallery 19 November 2016 – 21 January 2017, University of the Sunshine Coast Gallery, 16 February 2017 – 25 March 2017 Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery, 28 April 2017 – 17 June 2017|
|2015||Culture War II, Downing Centre|
|2014||Kirribilli Dreaming, 2014, Loreto Kirribilli|
|2009||2009 Parliament of NSW Aboriginal Art Award, Parliament of NSW, Sydney, NSW|
|2009||‘Forgotten History’ Solo exhibition. COFA 2008 Professional Development Award exhibition, College of Fine Arts, Sydney, NSW|
|2008||25th Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT|
|2008||2008 Parliament of NSW Aboriginal Art Award|
|2006||three month studio residency at the College of Fine Arts UNSW|
|2004||Black Fairies and Black Room Politics Solo Exhibition, Blackfellas Dreaming Aboriginal Art Gallery and Museum, Darlinghurst, NSW|
|2004||Black Fairies for Aboriginal Kids Solo Exhibition, Blackfellas Dreaming Aboriginal Art Gallery and Museum, Bangalow, NSW|
|2004||Our Place: Indigenous Australia Now, Cultural Olympiad, Athens, Greece|
|2004||Diversity Group Exhibition, international Indigenous Convention, Fowler Museum of Cultural History UCLA, Los Angeles, California, USA|
|2002||Reconciliation Solo Exhibition, Blackfellas Dreaming Aboriginal Art Gallery and Museum Darlinghurst, NSW|
|2001||At the opening of the exhibition ‘In Ya Face: Gordon Syron and Gordon Hookey‘ at Boomalli the following year, Hookey acknowledged Syron as a key influence.|
|2000||Artist-in-residence for the Australian Humanist Society Sydney. His work was included in an exhibition of Aboriginal Art staged at the Australian Pavilion for the Sydney 2000 Olympics and his massive 1998 portrait of Mum Shirl was the centrepiece of the Mum Shirl Tribute exhibition staged at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative, later shown at the Powerhouse Museum.|
|1999||Museum of Sydney’s ‘Bamaradbanga’ group exhibition|
|1999||Australian Museum Sydney staged a mini-retrospective of his work, titled ‘The Quiet Achiever’.|
|1999||Dreaming the Republic: Aboriginal Responses to the Coming of the Republic, Newcastle Regional Art Gallery, Newcastle, NSW|
|1997||My Rally Against Racism’|
|1997||Two solo exhibitions and a two person show with Pelot’s photographs at DQ Art on Oxford St,|
|1997||I Shoulda Been A Statistic’ was shown at North Adelaide School of Arts Gallery.|
|1994-95||first solo exhibition since the Murawina show, Balmain Community Centre|
|1995||lithographs in collaboration with Theo Tremblay, included in a group exhibition of Urban Aboriginal Art lithographs at Coo-ee Aboriginal Art|
|1984||Koori Art ’84|
|1982||Painted the backdrop for the Face, Masks; Costume Jewellery Pavilion at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.|
|1981.||Aboriginal theatrical productions, most famously The Cakeman|
|1970s and early 1980s.||Murawina Aboriginal Childcare Centre in Redfern|
|1972||Prison art at the Ball and Chain Gallery in The Rocks, Sydney|
All the artworks featured in www.gordonsyron.com/art are copyright of the Artist Gordon Syron. Please ask permission before use.