Gordon was a real pioneer and set a precedent for political art in Australia. He spoke with an Aboriginal voice that could be universally understood—something that became more and more evident as his career grew and he started to be featured in increasing numbers of international biennials and exhibitions.
…Gordon unexpectedly and very sadly passed away on June 3 this year. A mutual friend, the curator Simon Wright, called me a few days later to let me know. It was an emotional call. Simon also wanted me to know that he and Gordon had been at lunch just the week before and had discussed my most recent letter. In 2010, I began writing letters to Gordon, inspired in part by his own letters written to Jean-Michel Basquiat. I was jolted one morning after opening the local newspaper to find an article about a prominent football coach who had used the term “black cunt” in reference to an Aboriginal player. As I read the article, Gordon’s early painting Daddy’s Little Girl II (1994) came vividly to mind. I thought of how the father in this artwork sits on his lounge chair in the corner of the living room relaxing with a smoker’s pipe in hand. Wearing a pretty Sunday dress, his blonde daughter plays with toy blocks spelling out the words “ABO,” “BOONG,” “COON” and “DARKIE,” all derogatory names regularly used against Aboriginal people. The girl points the blocks toward her father to gain his approval, love and attention. It is a small but incredibly powerful work in which Gordon brilliantly illustrates the cycle of racism, handed down and taught from one generation to the next. In my last letter to Gordon, which is also included in my artwork for the 2014 Basil Sellers Art Prize, I said:
I wanted to write to you today to thank you for instilling in me a strong sense of pride. Despite the challenges I face as a Blak [sic]man, I will never give up on the fight against racism. There are so many heroes who stand up for our people, and it is those heroes—people like you—who inspire me to carry on.