5 April 2017, Sydney

Colin and Liz Laverty’s keen eye for a great painting and their passion for Aboriginal art encouraged them to acquire key works from early in an artist’s career. Untitled (Dried Flowers and Fruits), 1990, marks a transition in the early phase of Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s painting career in the public domain. In this work, the artist achieves an intensity of atmospheric effect through layers of dotting that was to characterise her paintings over the following two years. Painted a year after she created her first works in acrylic on canvas, the linear compositional devices and the restrained markmaking found in earlier works such as Untitled (Alalgura/Alhalkerre), 1989 (formerly in the Laverty Collection),1 and Awelye, 1989-90 (in the Janet Holmes à Court Collection),2 dissolve into in fields of dots applied with an exuberance and immediacy as seen in this and related paintings such as Seeds of Abundance (in the National Gallery of Australia collection) and State of my country (in the Holt Collection),3 both painted in the following month.

Kngwarreye was highly responsive to the landscape and its changing moods and seasons. The eminent art historian Patrick McCaughey rates Kngwarreye as one of the great Australian painters of the land.4 Untitled (Dried Flowers and Fruits) was made during a period of rare winter rains in Alhalker (Alalgura), Kngwarreye’s customary lands on Utopia Station. Janet Holt describes the transformation of the landscape in her notes accompanying the work: ‘the movement of colour from the dry earth tones to lush green growth is slow’ and the mood of the country is ‘apprehensive’ in the hope that ‘an early glimpse of warmth will… produce a desert in full carpeted bloom’. This sense of ‘apprehension’, of expectation and hope is masterfully captured in the painting; areas of sienna and rose madder marks emerge through the layers of muted ochre tones under an array of cream-white dots to suggest to the eye a myriad of colours.

This visual sensation relates to the concept of Awelye, the Anmatyerr and Alyawarr term for women’s ceremonies and the associated designs painted onto the ground, on ritual objects and onto participant’s bodies. Awelye was a recurring source of inspiration for the canvas paintings of Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Awelye makes things ‘flash’: a plain oval-shaped piece of wood becomes a ritual dancing board with the application of ochres; a woman painted up for ceremony is imbued with ancestral energy. Untitled, 1992, is a vigorous variation on the theme. Here the artist has created an eyedazzling composition in a range of red, yellow and orange tones that make the intangible visible, suggesting the presence of the ancestors’ spiritual powers within the painting itself. Emily made a series of works employing this distinctive, brushy application of paint that includes the golden brown Untitled, 1993, and even a painted car door in the collection of the Riddock Art Gallery, Mount Gambier.

1. Beyond Sacred: Recent Painting from Australia’s Remote Aboriginal Communities: The Collection of Colin and Elizabeth Laverty, Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne, 2008, p. 88 (illus.)
2. Neale, M (ed.), Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Paintings from Utopia, Queensland Art Gallery and Macmillan, Brisbane, 1998, pl. 47, cat. 22, p.79 (illus.)
3. Isaacs, J., T. Smith, J. Ryan, et al., Emily Kngwarreye Paintings, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1998, pl. 12, p. 57 and pl. 13, pp. 58 – 9 respectively (illus.)
4. McCaughey, P., Strange Country: Why Australian painting matters, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2014, pp. 24 – 8