Important Fine Art + Aboriginal Art
2 December 2015


(c.1910 – 1996)

synthetic polymer paint on linen

152.0 cx 488.0 cm

inscribed verso: artist's name and Delmore Gallery cat.94K27

$300,000 – 400,000
Sold for $366,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 41 - 2 December 2015, Sydney

Commissioned in November 1994 by Delmore Gallery, Alice Springs
The Delmore Collection, Alice Springs
Private collection, Melbourne 

Catalogue text

It is difficult to think of another Australian artist who, having started painting so late in life, left such an enduring mark on modern Australian art, and in this masterwork we can begin to understand why. It marks a shift in style in her representation of the wellspring of her experience, namely her Alhalkere home at Utopia in the Eastern Desert, north east of Alice Springs – the landscape and its cycles, the seasons, her Dreamings. In this work connections to symbols and the underlying linear marks of earlier paintings have lost definition. Saturated in colour, Alhalkere, 1994 is a monumental work, explosive in the use of her lexicon. She is immersed in the experience of painting and the interconnectedness of life, landscape and culture. Indeed, when asked about what she paints, she said, ‘Whole lot, that’s all – that’s what I paint, whole lot.’1

Layers of strong brush marks are heaped upon an ochre ground, the broad palette of warm red, yellow, pink and orange applied dots on dots build up rhythmic layers of colour, suggesting a dense undergrowth of leaves and flowers. These warm colours are topped with tracery lines of white dots. It is the gesture, the way that the paint has been applied that dominates this painting. The work exudes energy with the flowing dots expressing movement that takes your eye across all parts of the canvas. Despite being a large painting, almost five metres long, the arcs and lines of dots created by the reach of the of the artist's outstretched arm lend the painting a human scale while describing a broad stretch of landscape. 'This is a striking instance of body and country becoming one woman drawing her country with her body's reach.’2

She may have followed in the wake of the success of Western Desert painting, but Emily became nationally and internationally recognized 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

Emily’s career began in the late 1980s, and in the years until her death in 1996, she produced a body of work which radically altered the way in which we see and understand modern Aboriginal art. For most of her life she lived with little contact with the outside world. While much has been made of the way in which we might view her work in parallel with modern, non-indigenous abstraction, we must first recognize her achievement as a truly inventive and original contribution to Aboriginal art.

1. Kngwarreye, E.K., interview with Gooch, R., 1990
2. McCulloch, A., McCulloch, S. and McCulloch Childs, E., The New McCulloch's Encyclopedia of Australian Art, Australian Art Editions in association with The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2006, p. 10
3. Smith, T., 'Kngwarreye woman abstract painter', in Isaacs, J. et al., Emily Kngwarreye Paintings, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1998, p. 32