Important Australian Aboriginal Art
18 March 2020


(c.1910 – 1996)

synthetic polymer paint on linen

125.0 x 397.0 cm

signed verso: Emlly [sic]
bears inscription verso: artist’s name and Commissioned by Delmore

$250,000 – 350,000
Sold for $317,200 (inc. BP) in Auction 60 - 18 March 2020, Melbourne

Commissioned by Delmore Gallery, via Alice Springs, Northern Territory (cat. 94FO54)
Private collection, Melbourne, since 1994
Menzies, Melbourne, 26 April 2018, lot 28
Private collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

A senior member of the Anmatyerre people, Emily Kngwarreye held a position of respect as a law-holder and custodian of her country of Alhalkere, adjoining the lands of Utopia, north of Alice Springs – the ancestral lands of the Anmatyerre and Alyawarra people. This country was Kngwarrreye’s raison d’être, and the intimate physical and spiritual knowledge held within the ceremonial cycles, translating the land and dictating peoples’ relation to it, informed each and every one of her many artworks. Desert Winter, 1994, is major high-colourist work, expansive in scale, celebrating the cyclical phases that govern the natural world and the potent life-giving and spiritual forces stored within it. Resonant in a restricted palette of warm reds, yellows and oranges, the organic dancing trails of Kngwarreye’s hand reflect with surprising immediacy an ancient continuity of knowledge and interaction with the land. As Judith Ryan notes, the potency of Kngwarreye’s paint in her later work obviated the need for a written explanation – the raw power of her colour and gesture can be appreciated across cultures and creeds.1

In the 1990s, Emily Kngwarreye, already in her eighth decade, publicly emerged as one of the world’s leading contemporary painters. Reflecting the total connectedness to the land to which she belongs, each painting became a metaphorical self-portrait and declaration of her people’s profound sovereignty over the land. Tackling massive canvases with confidence and verve beyond her years, Kngwarreye produced many masterpieces in her twilight years between 1992 and 1996.Her advancing years endowed her an increased motivation and impetus to visually express her country’s tjukurrpa, displaying extraordinary dynamism and nimble inventiveness in her varied mark making. Alhalkere, while extraordinarily remote, arid and hostile to life, is home to native yams, grasses as well as emus, dingos and lizards. The ceremonial cycles of many of these separate elements fell under Kngwarreye’s own purview as an elder within her community. Consequently, these multifarious dreamings coexist within her artworks – hidden amongst the densely packed dots and vigorous rhythmic parallel lines.

1994 was a year characterised by below-average rainfall and shortage of water across the country felt particularly keenly in the Simpson Desert and Central Australia. Characterised as a broad, flat area of desert covered by windswept sand hills and little vegetation, Alhalkere’s landscape is dramatic and astoundingly resilient. Desert Winter is an intensely bright and joyous celebration of this resilience – the imminent burgeoning of the yam seed, the bush potato from which Kngwarreye derived her name. The underlying graphic matrix of parallel lines (reflecting the network of the branching tuberous plant) is painted here in bold red, gradually obliterated by superimposed broad stippled blotches systematically weaving across the surface of the painting. Desert Winter is unusual in its transitionary place in the progression of the artist’s work – disparate compositional and stylistic devices coexisting on the one expansive canvas, an apt symbolic expression of the swift seasonal changes about to animate the desert landscape of the artist’s country.

1. Neale, M. (ed.), EMILY KAME KNGWARREYE: Alhalkere paintings from Utopia, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1998, p. 43