Important Australian Aboriginal Art Auction
18 March 2020



synthetic polymer paint on paper

55.0 x 54.0 cm each image
57.0 x 57.0 cm each sheet
each bears inscription verso: artist’s name and Alcaston
Gallery cats. AK3094 – AK3100
$25,000 – 35,000 (7)
Sold for $42,700 (inc. BP) in Auction 60 - 18 March 2020, Melbourne
Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne
Private collection, Tasmania, acquired from the above in 1996
Ginger Riley, National Gallery of Victoria,Melbourne, 17 July – 22 September 1997
Ryan, J., Ginger Riley, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne,1997, p. 97 (illus. ‘Garimala in Limmen Bight country, 1995’ and ‘Ngak Ngak in Limmen Bight country, 1995’)
This work is accompanied by certificates of authenticity from Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne.


Catalogue text
Featured in the groundbreaking retrospective of Riley’s art organised by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne in 1997, the present suite of seven paintings encapsulates a sequence of events inspired by his mother country – the coastal saltwater area in south-east Arnhem Land which extends from the Gulf of Carpentaria along the Limmen Bight River to the Four Arches, approximately 50 kilometres inland.
Pulsating with energy and enlivened by his daring use of vibrant colour, dominant motifs from Riley’s repertoire typically punctuate the works, including the mythological serpent Garimala (here depicted as two snakes to denote him travelling); the totemic white-breasted sea eagle, Ngak Ngak, who fulfils the role of a sentinel or guardian protecting the country; the heavy, rain-filled clouds which herald the fertile abundance of the wet season, while also symbolising the artist’s mother; and the V-shaped chevrons, used variously as a framing device, that directly relate to Riley’s Yidditja ritual body paint in ceremony.
Indeed, according to the ancestral dreaming, Garimala journeyed from afar down the Limmen Bight River to create the geographical formation known as the Four Arches - an area to which Riley refers as ‘the centre of the earth, where all things start and finsh’1 and where the serpent lives nearby. The story continues that Garimala ‘travelled from the Four Arches to Nyamiyukanji in the Limmen Bight River, disappeared under the water and metamorphosed into the Rainbow Serpent’2, associated with the life-giving properties of fresh water, the monsoon season and the continuing cycle of life; while in another manifestation, this snake hero named Bulukbun becomes an aggressive, fire-breathing serpentdragon who rises out of the sea and kills people. Although much of Riley’s oeuvre is distinguished by the endurance of this singular narrative, his iconography is not restrictive, nor does it betray a lack of innovation. To the contrary, the repetition of his mother’s stories allows for greater depth of exploration and revelation; as Riley himself reflects, such paintings are ‘…the same, but different’3.Same referring to the consistently employed subject matter, story and country, but different in each work’s unique conception, paint and design.
1. Riley cited in Ryan, J., Ginger Riley, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1997, p.15
2. Riley, ibid., p.30
3. Riley, ibid., p.10