Important Australian Indigenous Art
22 March 2023


(c.1910 - 1996)

synthetic polymer paint on canvas 

87.0 x 60.0 cm (each)

i. bears inscription on backing board verso: artist’s name, title, date, Rodney Gooch, Alice Springs, Mulga Bore Artists cat. 90-1195 and Aboriginal Dreamings Gallery cat. ADG 57096
ii. bears inscription on backing board verso: artist’s name, title, date, Rodney Gooch, Alice Springs, Mulga Bore Artists cat. 91-1195 and Aboriginal Dreamings Gallery cat. ADG 57196

$40,000 – $60,000 (2)
Sold for $104,318 (inc. BP) in Auction 73 - 22 March 2023, Melbourne

Commissioned by Rodney Gooch (Mulga Bore Artists), Alice Springs in November 1995 (inscribed verso)
Aboriginal Dreamings Gallery, Canberra
Private collection, Canberra, acquired from the above in September 1996 

Catalogue text

Renowned for her colourful, vibrant paintings based on the everchanging desert landscape in her father and grandfather’s Country of Alhalkere, Emily Kngwarreye was deeply rooted in the Anmatyerr land of her ancestors to whom she paid respect through a lifetime of ceremonial song, dance and painting. Her art chronicled on canvas this triangular shaped country, where Emily was born, the youngest of three children, and where she lived in the ways of the eastern Anmatyerr. In 1926, the traditional life of the Anmatyerr and Alyawarr people was disrupted, when the borders of the Utopia pastoral lease were drawn across their lands and from there, local people including Kngwarreye found work on the emergent pastoral stations. Many years after, in 1977, she was introduced to batik as part of adult education classes on Utopia Station and ten years later, in 1988 – 89, painted her first work on canvas, sparking a meteoric rise to fame.

Kngwarreye's mark making revealed a strength and sureness of hand that delivered an exuberance of gesture. Her paintings were constructed of various elements that over time were either added to or eliminated from the surface of the canvas. Underlying grids structure the compositions, with sequences of dots aligned between or over dots, dashes and linear marks, meandering lines and areas of dots applied on dots allowing a build-up of colour. Later, simple lines, sometimes monochromatic and at other times in vivid colour, sometimes scrawled, sometimes tangled, meander across the canvas. These elements constitute the artist’s lexicon and are used separately or in varying combinations, thus allowing her work to evolve and be constantly fresh.

Commissioned by Rodney Gooch in November 1995, Untitled (Yam Dreaming I), and Untitled (Yam Dreaming II), are among a small group of powerful and dynamic monochromatic canvases executed on a black ground. Produced between 1995 and early 1996, this phase of her production was characterised by solid meandering lines and are masterpieces of strength and simplicity. The single colour, in this case a bright white, is applied deliberately with web-like traceries energetically spread across each canvas. The sweeping arcs of white paint intersecting, overlaying and crossing in a series of gestural strokes mirror the subject of her painting – the meandering rhizomatic roots of the Arlatyeye plant (the pencil yam - Vigna lanceolata) and the cracks that form in the ground when the pencil yam ripens – while at the same time highlighting the intimate process between artist and canvas.

More than two decades have passed since Emily Kngwarreye died in September 1996, yet her name remains synonymous with the best of Australian Indigenous art. An original, intuitive and often enigmatic artist, her painting career lasted less than a decade, but the critical acclaim for her prodigious output has not diminished and her reputation has been sustained both in Australia and internationally.