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‘A landmark in Australian literature—a book written in gouache, acrylic, blood and tears: the story of the modern frontier, where high art, for a brief, magic time, was made from the trust and tension between two worlds.’—Nicolas Rothwell, award-winning author of Belomor and Quicksilver


About the book

Set in the striking landscape of the East Kimberley, The Stranger Artist is a true story of life, loss and friendship that cuts to the heart of one of Australia’s most celebrated art movements.

At a time when Aboriginal art was gaining global influence, former gallerist and art adviser Tony Oliver found himself deeply immersed in the world of senior Gija artists.

Bearing witness to the cultivation of the groundbreaking Jirrawun Arts movement, one of the most successful and controversial centres of Australia’s Aboriginal art scene, Oliver went on to form a closeness he found hard to articulate with renowned contemporary artists Paddy Bedford and Freddie Timms. His life’s trajectory was forever altered as he came to share not only the artists’ many successes but their tragedies too.

The Stranger Artist is an enthralling account of a decade in art, and life between cultures: a sensitive yet unflinching portrait of both darkness and light.


About the author

Quentin Sprague is a Geelong-based writer who has worked variously as a curator, academic, art coordinator and artist. His essays and criticism have regularly appeared in publications including The Monthly, The Australian, Art & Australia and Discipline, as well as artist monographs and exhibition catalogues. Between 2007 and 2009 he lived on the Tiwi Islands and in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia, where he worked for Aboriginal arts organisations.


Note from the author

I was motivated to write The Stranger Artist for numerous reasons, many of them hard to fully articulate. But at one level it was simple too: after working in the northern Aboriginal art industry for three years between 2007-2009, and carrying a life-long interest in painting, I recognised that the story was one that spoke volumes, not just about the complex world of Aboriginal art, but about other, more pressing things too. Cultural entanglement and collaboration was part of it, but so too was colonial history and the horror of the East Kimberley frontier: themes that each spoke in their own way to the broader challenges that attend Australia’s relationship with its First Peoples.

I knew Paddy Bedford’s work, and loved it, but as with a number of other artists who are part of this story–Freddie Timms, for instance, or Rammey Ramsey–I felt I only came to fully understand it once I began to see it in light of his friendship with Tony Oliver. It’s Oliver who built a life in the remote East Kimberley, and who provides this book its through-line. The resulting work is in my mind a narrative non-fiction hybrid: it hinges on conversations with a range of people, some of which extended for years, but it also draws obliquely on my own experiences living in that world too. It’s about painting, but I hope it’s the human story that ultimately carries through: one of a singular cross-cultural friendship and trust that was achieved in the most unlikely of places.


Sample chapter

For a preview of The Stranger Artist, download the first few pages here.


Reading copy giveaway

If you’d like to receive a copy of The Stranger Artist, send an email with the subject line ‘The Stranger Artist’ and your postal address in the body of the email to We have 30 copies to give away.





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