Emily Kame Kngwarreye: Wally Caruana

SYDNEY- 8 March 2015

In his recent book on Australian painting,1 Patrick McCaughey rates Rover Thomas, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Emily Kame Kngwarreye as three of the outstanding painters in Australian art history. Of Kngwarreye’s work, he states: ‘One of the most striking aspects of Emily Kngwarreye’s tumultuous career was her capacity to change her style without ever relinquishing her beliefs.’2 This is particularly true of the three paintings offered in this auction. The conviction with which she paints her ancestral lands shines through in these paintings which feature the artist’s range of mark making, from the dot within dot of Untitled (Dried Carpeted Abundance) 1991 (Lot 85), to the lush and luminous surface of Untitled (Alalgura I), 1992 (Lot 84) and the sinuous meanderings of Untitled,1996 (Lot 83).

The three paintings reflect distinct but overlapping periods in Kngwarreye’s brief but productive career as a painter in the public arena. Untitled (Dried Carpeted Abundance), 1991 (Lot 85) emerges from the very first canvases she painted, two years previously, that feature her signature dotting of pencil yam (kame) seeds – her autobiographical mark. Untitled (Alalgura I), 1992 (Lot 84) reflects a period in her oeuvre which celebrated the fertile, nourishing nature of her country, Alhalkere. Soft colours, forms and lines of dots soak into the canvas in patterns replicating the glisten of ochre painted onto human skin that has been rubbed in animal fat as in the application of ritual body painting designs – the awelye. An alternate body painting type features in the later work, Untitled,1996 (Lot 83). Here, the continuous gestural meanders create a matrix suggestive of yam roots spreading underground. The image is directly related to the designs found in Kngwarreye’s batik cloth. Batik retains and reveals each and every mark made by the artist. The association with batik harks back to the very beginnings of her extraordinary career, as one of a community of women undertaking an adult education program some fifteen years earlier.

¹ McCaughey, P., Strange Country: Why Australian painting matters, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2014
² Ibid., p. 25