Meet the Aboriginal artist who is breaking moulds and creating new stories

Artist Andrew Binsiar and his framer Eireann Mahuariki
Artist Andrew Binsiar and his framer Eireann Mahuariki

Tall, towering, tattooed artist Andrew Binsiar says his personal looks might intimidate some people coming to his art shows.

“But when people talk to me they see I’m a big softie,” he said from Swan Settlers Market with his paintings on display.

While the 50-year-old Yamatji elder looks unique, back home at his Meekatharra community, Andrew’s image is shared with his identical twin brother, Robert.

“And we’re both bald,” he laughed.

At just eight months old, the bubs from the bush were put into a Perth foster home and adopted by a New Zealand man and his Indigenous wife.

“It was probably the best because our natural mother was only 16. Life would have been harder,” philosophical, father-of-five Andrew said.

“For the past years, I have lived in a small Aboriginal community called Buttah Windee (the pouch that a mother carries her baby in), five kilometres from Meekatharra,” he said.

After driving mining trucks, Andrew retired to focus on his ideas for not-for-profit community projects funded from the sale of his acrylic paintings.

He acquired 3,000 barramundi and put them in tanks to provide work experience for local Indigenous boys, to keep the growing fish healthy and then prepare them for community meals.

The project provided for tourists to visit the community, see the famous, fine-eating fish close-up and participate in preparing and cooking barramundi the Indigenous way, in the ground. And then joining in the community meal.

The tank water from the community’s bore was then used, with its fish waste nutrients, to water budding orange trees with the fruit to be distributed, free, in the community, including to the local school.

His barramundi plan was stymied by the pandemic when tourists stopped, but Andrew said it will be re-started. He never charged tourist fees.

“It was never designed to be commercial. The project is to provide a small glimpse into modern Aboriginal practices,” he said.

Andrew said projects like work-for-the-dole were aimed at providing youth employment and are all about seeking profits “which usually went bust so the boys were left with negative feelings.”

“I wanted to have something that wouldn’t be perceived as a failure, that the boys could become involved in. Doing something in their community.”

Andrew said his boyhood brushes with authority were because of “no work, no opportunities, nothing to do.”  

Now, his paintings sell between $1,500 and $14,000 with prints at $250.

“All my paintings come with a story,” he said.

Andrew reveals his stories to interested visitors to his occasional art shows. He has a small gallery at Meekatharra and hopes to come south for more displays at Swan Settlers Market.

He produces one of his paintings of a hand with two smaller hands.

“It tells the story of my brother and me being fostered-out,” he said.

“Everyone knows the story of the Stolen Generations but I want people to know there are other sides, too.”

Andrew is supported in his projects by his wife, Janine.

“We met out on community 33 years ago. I moved to the community 22 years ago from Meekatharra and got serious about painting 17 years ago,” he said.

Without tutoring, he used natural ochres until they became hard to get with restrictions placed on sacred sites. Switching to acrylics and using brushes, he incorporates dot art.

“It’s a modern version based on traditional art,” he said.

Andrew has won local art competitions over the past eight years. He held his first solo exhibition at the Gomboc Gallery last year. 

Andrew’s Facebook link is andosartprints. Phone 0457 688 227.

Editor’s note: I bought a print of Andrew’s work about Native Title which proudly sits in my lounge room.
He will be back at Swan Settlers Market at the end of March