Important Aboriginal + Oceanic Art
4 April 2012


(c.1920 - 2008)

synthetic polymer paint on linen

182.0 x 271.0 cm

inscribed verso: artist's name, size and Watiyawanu Artists of Amunturrngu cat. 7707382

$80,000 - 120,000

Watiyawanu Artists of Amunturrngu, Mount Leibig
Bond Aboriginal Art, Adelaide
Private collection, Melbourne

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Watiyawanu Artists.

Catalogue text

Born around 1920 in the Pirupa Akla (Olgas) area, Pitjantkatjara country, Bill Whiskey first ate white man's food as a young man when he and some community members wandered into a small mission (now the Areyonga Community). The white pastor (Patupirriit) didn't notice the food being tossed behind their backs. They were suspicious of its taste. Eventually moving to the Outstation of Amunturrngu (Mount Liebig) with his wife Colleen Nampitjinpa, Bill Whiskey played a prominent role as a 'big business' man or Ngangari (traditional healer). There are stories that at night he would leave his body and fly over the landscape. Upon his return he would report on what he had seen.

In December 2005, aged 85, and having watched the women paint in the new art centre for some time, Bill Whiskey walked in one day, sat down and began to paint with an immediate and distinct authority - rapidly drawing attention and bringing almost instant fame.

In the space of a few short years Bill Whiskey created an astonishing body of paintings that quickly entered major international, national and private collections. In 2006 and 2007 he was a finalist in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award.

This painting deals with his central story of the rock holes near Pirupa Alka (rockholes near the Olgas and Uluru) and the journey as a young man to Areyonga and Haasts Bluff. However, it is unique for its highly restricted palette and the sheer scope of its depiction of Country. The predominance of white, in passages handled with a virtuosic delicacy evocative of filigree, and the subtlety of the shifting rhythms controlled on a monumental scale by the density and variety of dotting, together with the pungent use of blue, lend this work a shimmering radiance seen only in the best of the rare very large works he executed.

Like the great early Papunya Tula artist Johnny Warrangkula Tjupurrula, Bill Whiskey didn't restrict dots to the role of infill or mask to hide secret features. Instead, he engaged them more ambitiously as major compositional device in order to depict key topographical features. Likewise, the predominance of white is not incidental as intimately connected to his Cockatoo Dreaming in which white quartz stones are feathers shed and scattered in the Cockatoo's terrible battle to ward off the murderously amorous Crow. The roundels, as explained by Nicholas Kachel, can represent either 'the holes made by the cockatoo and crow during their fight, or the specific rockholes used by Tjapaltjarri's family as dependable sources of fresh water'.1 The vivid coloured areas represent bushtucker and flowers bursting forth according to the seasons.

Finally, it is the sustained microscopic control of detail in his paintings, the tracery of dotted lines representing walking tracks in the lower and upper left corners combined with such epic composition that distinguishes this important work. Two perspectives, one aerial and another intimately connected to the knowledge of the ground, as experienced or read by feet on sand are interwoven. Here is a complex perspective at once intimately focused and cosmologically unbounded.

1. Kachel, N., Bill Whiskey Tjapaltjarri, Exhibition catalogue essay, John Gordon Gallery, 2007