Important Aboriginal Works of Art
25 May 2016


(c.1928 – 2003)

natural earth pigments and synthetic binder on canvas

72.5 x 121.5 cm

inscribed verso: artist's name and Jilamara Arts and Crafts cat. 515-02

$25,000 – 35,000
Sold for $24,400 (inc. BP) in Auction 43 - 25 May 2016, Melbourne

Jilamara Arts and Crafts, Melville Island (stamped verso)
Aboriginal and Pacific Arts, Sydney
Private collection, New South Wales


Kitty Kantilla – Kutuwulumi Purawarrumpatu, Aboriginal and Pacific Art, Sydney, 17 July – 8 August 2003
2003 Clemenger Art Award, The Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 19 September – 23 November 2003, cat. 74331 (label attached verso)
Kitty Kantilla, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 27 April – 19 August 2007; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 7 December 2007 – 21 January 2008, cat. 76 (label attached verso)


Ryan, J., Kitty Kantilla, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2007, p. 66 (illus.)
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Jilamara Arts and Crafts.

Catalogue text

Kitty Kantilla (Kutuwulumi Purawarrumpatu) is renowned for bringing the art of the Tiwi Islands to contemporary acclaim. Informed by traditional knowledge inherited from her father, Kantilla's cultural identity is central to her accomplished aesthetic. 'As a young girl she learnt by watching her father paint his special jilamara (design) on faces, bodies and objects, and by experiencing the dramatic spectacle of Pukumani ceremonies with sets of individual kinship dances and songs, differentiated face and body designs, and huge fully decorated tutini and objects.’1

Originally a sculptor of tutini (funerary poles) and figures, by the mid 1990s, Kantilla had made a departure from the vigorous carving involved with sculpture, to focus on two-dimensional works on paper and canvas. Kantilla produced some of her most remarkable paintings on canvas, which she used increasingly from 2000. If Kantilla's black ground works are a more literal translation of the Tiwi body paint decoration for which she had become so well known, it was rather the dramatic transition to a white ground that catapulted her work into the realm of deep abstraction, as though a light had been shone on all the cultural ceremonial elements Kantilla had gleaned from her father. As Judith Ryan astutely observed, 'The white surface broke the direct link between surface of object or body and two-dimensional painting and introduced stronger tonal contrasts, giving life to dramatic divisions of space, larger fields of colour and the adventurous use of squares and lines within rectangles on a white wall.’2

In Pumpuni Jilamara, 2002, one of her final paintings, Kantilla applies natural earth pigments directly to a white primed canvas with a lightness of touch that evokes the ethereal elements of customary ritual and ceremony at the heart of her paintings. A sense of sacred music and dance pervades her work and this appears all the more evident in her white ground paintings. Her means are few, 'she needs only pwanga, marlipinyini amintiya turtiyanginari (dots, lines and ochre colours) to create infinite variations of rhythm, balance and beauty of which no two are exactly alike'.3

A prominent inclusion in the National Gallery of Victoria retrospective in 2007, Pumpuni Jilamara, 2002 is a loose arrangement of blocks of solid ochres, striated lines and Kitty's leitmotif of delicately dotted spaces, all of which seem to float on the white canvas. It is both ancient and modern in the one instance.

1. Ryan, J., 'Dot Dot - the Art of Kitty Kantilla', in Meridian: Focus on Contemporary Australian Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2002, p. 99
2. Ryan, J., Kitty Kantilla, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2007, p. 82
3. Ibid.