Menzies Art Brands



Emily Kame Kngwarreye lived her entire life in one of the worlds most remote regions, an area called Utopia on the edge of the Simpson Desert, a good 230 kilometres from the already-remote Alice Springs. It was here that Kngwarreye began to paint on canvas for the first time at almost eighty years of age, after a lifetime of transient mark-making in sand and on bodies. Astonishingly, in the remaining eight years of her life she reportedly produced over three-thousand paintings, indicating a production rate of roughly a painting per day.1

Kngwarreyes paintings transcended her relative physical and artistic isolation. As Professor Margo Neale describes, she was elderly, black, female and untutored in the art practices of the western art world, where her works were unconditionally accepted, voraciously consumed and elevated to iconic status.2 Kngwarreyes practice drew instant acclaim as the cutting edge of Aboriginal art because she did not conform to the conventional coded system of Indigenous iconography, instead producing large abstract canvases. These works came at a time when Aboriginal art had broken free of its label as tribal or primitive art, finally reaching the rarefied status of contemporary fine art. In this global context Kngwarreyes works were instantly aligned with major abstract painters of the twentieth century, such as Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), despite Kngwarreye never having been exposed to these influences. Remarkably, while her works can hold their own against such revered Abstract Expressionists, her masterpieces owe nothing to Western art history and everything to her pure talent and intuition which derive from local Aboriginal practices.

Despite numerous stylistic chapters, Kngwarreyes entire oeuvre is about her Country, Alhalkere. So profound and all-encompassing was her identification with Alhalkere, that it was not only her studio, but also her constant source of inspiration and her only subject. The only definitive statement she ever made about her work was, whole lot, thats whole lot Thats what I paint, whole lot,3 meaning her works embody every aspect of Alhalkere, from the contours of the country to the cycles of the seasons.

The present work is no exception, portraying the life force of her Country and the dynamic growth after rain. It is widely agreed that the period between 1991 and 1993, when Wet Season was painted, was Kngwarreyes greatest colourist phase.4 Here, the yellow signifies bursting seeds and the dull greens represent the promise of new life after the rains of the wet season, which Kngwarreye referred to as green time. Dots are of course a distinct hallmark of contemporary desert art, but few artists have used them as innovatively as Kngwarreye. For example, Wet Season demonstrates her inventive technique known as the dump-dump style.5 Here, Kngwarreye uses a paintbrush swiftly and with such force that the bristles splay dramatically, leaving marks with feathered edges and hollow centres, each one a petrified imprint of the original action.

Significantly, Wet Season was part of the original Emily Wall created by well-known Aboriginal art dealer, Hank Ebes. Ebes was such an avid collector of Kngwarreye that he opened The Emily Museum, with its star display being the Emily Wall. Fifteen meters wide and five meters high, the wall consists of fifty-three panels in an impressive display of the changing seasons of Alhalkere and the changing artistic styles of Kngwarreye. Receiving the Australian Artists Creative Fellowship in 1992 and representing Australia at the Venice Biennale in 1997, Kngwarreye is undeniably one of Australias finest abstract painters. As with many Australian artistic greats before her, she contributed to Australias ever-evolving national identity that is so intrinsically linked to our land. Now when we look at an archetypal desert landscape, we dont just see Russell Drysdale (1912-1981) or Sidney Nolan (1917-1992), we see Kngwarreye country.


1. Grishin, S., Australian Art: A History, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2013, p. 455

2. Neale, M. et al., Emily Kame Kngwarreye: Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, The National Museum of Australia, ACT, 2008, p. 33

3. Ibid, p. 37

4. Isaacs, J., Smith, T., and Ryan, J., et al., Emily Kngwarreye Paintings, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1998, p. 31

5. Neale, M. et al., Emily Kame Kngwarreye: Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, The National Museum of Australia, ACT, 2008, p. 40


Asta Cameron BA, MA (Art Curatorship)


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