DESERT STORM, 1992

Important Australian and International Fine Art + Important Indigenous Art
Melbourne
29 November 2017
44

EMILY KAME KNGWARREYE

(c.1910 – 1996)
DESERT STORM, 1992

synthetic polymer paint on canvas

137.0 x 304.0 cm

bears inscription verso: artist's name, date, Commissioned by Delmore Gallery, and Delmore Gallery cat. 92L113

Estimate: 
$150,000 – 200,000
Provenance

Commissioned by Delmore Gallery, via Alice Springs
Private collection, Melbourne

Literature

Isaacs, J., Smith, T., Ryan, J., Holt, D., and Holt, J., Emily Kame Kngwarreye Paintings, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1998, pl. 34, p. 101 (illus.)

Catalogue text

In the book Emily Kngwarreye paintings, art historian Terry Smith declares that Desert Storm, 1992 is the major work of its kind by the artist.1 This bold and monumental painting by Emily Kngwarreye conveys the drama and fertility of the desert landscape after an early summer storm and confirms the virtuosity of the artist in the way she creates a highly evocative painting of great visual complexity out of strong but deceptively simple marks with the brush. Painted in December of 1992, it is one of a series of paintings that celebrate the life-giving forces of nature, and the corresponding metaphorical equivalents in spiritual and human terms – recurring themes throughout the artist's body of work.

The painting portrays the landscape that surrounds her homeland of Alhalkere, north of Alice Springs, a place where colours continually shift with the movement of the sun and rare rainstorms batter and flood the surrounding country, leading to a brief proliferation of flowering plant life. Here the land is harsh and beautiful in equal measure and these extremes are captured with exuberance in this work. Significantly, Desert Storm, 1992 was created at a time when Kngwarreye’s painting was itself undergoing a process of transformation, with the artist abandoning the background tracery of the underlying yam roots and emu tracks, a consistent compositional device in her earlier paintings, and transitioning instead into fields of pure dots. In this work connections to symbols and the underlying linear marks of earlier paintings have lost definition and any connection to these earlier lines is as implied absences as Kngwarreye gradually submerges the lines in layers of dots.

This was also a time when Kngwarreye experimented with larger brushes and broadened her palette beyond traditional colours and their derivatives, incorporating brighter hues such as blues, reds, greens, and in this case, vivid reds, purples and yellows. Kngwarreye suggests not only a sense of delight in the colours of the landscape; rather, now colour itself becomes both the impetus for – and subject of – such paintings. The power in this work comes from the rejuvenating life-giving force of rain, arriving here with a desert storm. Smith notes that ’if we relate the artist’s process of painting to the composition and figuration of the painting itself, we see immediately that they are the same. Storm clouds gathering, converging in the sky above the desert, rain falling onto rocks and sand to run towards a central river, the soakage bore swelling up and out, wild flowers bursting into bloom – each of these is conjured not by being pictured but only by her acts of reaching out and pulling back, pounding the canvas as she goes’.2 Despite being a large painting, over three metres long, the arcs and lines of dots created by the reach of the artist's outstretched arm lend the painting a human scale while describing a broad stretch of landscape.

She may have followed in the wake of the success of Western Desert painting, but Emily became nationally and internationally recognised for the way in which she intuitively responded to her specific cultural experiences and the many stylistic shifts she effortlessly adopted. ‘Kngwarreye's raw, painterly and gestural works came to be compared to those of de Kooning, Pollock and others, and in their glowing coloration, those of Claude Monet ... In her six years of painting .., this tribal woman who had never seen European art produced a stream of paintings of innovative style, confident imagery and vivid coloration'.3

1. Smith, T. cited in Isaacs, J., Emily Kngwarreye Paintings, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1998, p. 31
2. Ibid., 1998, p. 32
3. Ibid., 1998, p. 38 – 39

CRISPIN GUTTERIDGE