Part 2: Important Aboriginal Art
26 November 2014


born 1952

natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

147.0 x 71.5 cm

inscribed on label verso: artist's name, language group, medium, size and Maningrida Arts and Culture cat. 458-09

$14,000 - 18,000
Sold for $22,200 (inc. BP) in Auction 37 - 26 November 2014, Melbourne

Maningrida Arts and Culture, Northern Territory (label attached verso)
Private collection, United States of America

Catalogue text

With an artistic career spanning more than thirty years, John Mawurndjul is one of Australia's most successful and innovative contemporary artists. Born at Mumeka, located near the Mann River in Central Arnhem Land, an important site for the Kurulk clan, he had a very traditional upbringing.

Mawurndjul was guided by his elder brother Jimmy Njiminjuma and his uncle Peter Marralwanga, whose early painting instruction taught him how to apply paint to bodies for dance and initiation ceremonies, a task for which he showed a natural flair. Today Mawurndjul guides and monitors the development of his children and his niece Irenie Ngalinba, the daughter of his late brother Jimmy Njiminjuma.

His first paintings on bark were representations of mythological figures, such as Ngalyod  the Rainbow Serpent, totemic creatures and local natural species. These early paintings invoke ideas of spirituality, mythology and natural life cycles. It wasn't until after he had developed a more metaphysical representation of specific sites, events and landscape that Mawurndjul's fame grew. The artist eliminated representational imagery from his painting and instead embarked on a journey of exploration of rarrk (lineal clan designs), producing intricate paintings that are encoded with secret meaning. In Mardayin at Dilebang, 2009, the complexity and skill of Mawurndjul's ability as a painter of rarrk is evident. Surrounding the central circular motif, a rocky outcrop representing the head of Buluwana who was killed by the Giant Deaf Adder and turned to stone, are expanses of rarrk with multiple grids rendered in fine interlocking lines shifting in planes across the surface of the bark. The direction of the cross-hatching changes constantly and unpredictably.

In innovating both the treatment of rarrk and the iconic representation of both Mardayin (Sacred) and natural themes, Mawurndjul is constantly finding new ways to interpret his country through the use of rarrk. As the artist notes, his paintings are the'same, same but different ... I just can't stop thinking about my paintings ... They are very important places for us, they have meanings.'1

1. Rarrk: John Mawurndjul, Journey Through Time in Northern Australia, Museum Tinguely, Basel, 2005, p. 43