WIDJIMORPHUP is in WA’s wheatbelt, but you won’t find it on any map.
Instead the town is located in the vivid imagination of acclaimed local artist Leon Pericles.
There’s plenty of Widji in Just Scratching the Surface, a sprawling retrospective of his career that includes 500 artworks from the last 50 years.
Pericles arrived at Kay Gallery for our interview in a rush, fresh from filming an ABC documentary about his art, and clutching his latest creation.
“Be careful the ink’s still wet,” he says.
Moira, his wife of nearly 50 years, was diagnosed with dementia a few years ago and proceeds from the sale of the three limited edition prints, titled Etching for Moi, will go to The Australian Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.
Linton and Kaye Gallery is waiving its commission for the cause.
Moi prints have delicately drawn flags fluttering from a lighthouse.
“Most yachties could read it – it says Moira,” Pericles says.
As with much of his work, a tiny detail adds layers of meaning, like the quixotic rotary hoist at the base of the lighthouse.
“It’s typical of the work women do and are not given enough appreciation for,” he says.
Over his prolific career Pericles kept two prints from every run for his children, but with their homes now bursting at the seams with dad’s art, they can now be snapped up.
Pericles grew up in Meekatharra, where his parents owned a pub.
With deep mining shafts and deadly snakes all around, his dad told him not to go outside the gate, “or I would die.”
He took it to heart and stayed indoors, drawing an imagined world beyond the fence.
His talent was picked up at Hale School by another West Australian art icon, Robert Juniper, whose encouragement saw him head to the United Kingdom to undertake postgraduate studies.
A wicked sense of humour is evident in Pericles’ art as he sends up Aussies icons, like when the Royal East Widjimorphup Yacht Club entered Kiss of the Shag, created from corrugated iron, into the America’s Cup.
“The sails were made from old pyjamas from the Widji old men’s home,” quips Pericles.
A pre-fame William McGuiness was the captain, Oldsea Dog, and Pericles reckons it was the actor’s first big break, as the launch went viral with international film crews keen to spice up their news reports about the Cup action in the port city.
Another unforgettable performance was the Royal East Widji Art Society’s 1983 exhibition which featured the uncovering of an historic art find under its town hall.
But to show there’s more strings to Pericles’ bow than just Widji, he was also the recipient of an international kite-making award for one of his creations, which was flown before a Chinese audience of 200,000 people.
Just Scratching the Surface is on at Linton and Kay Gallery, Aberdeen Place, West Perth, until December 23.
By JENNY D’ANGER