Menzies Art Brands



Emily Kame Kngwarreyes oeuvre is a collective expression of the interconnectedness of her physical self and Country her home Alalgura (Alhalkere), situated near Soakage Bore, Utopia, north east of Alice Springs as well as the metaphysical associations of awelye (womens law ceremonies in the Anmatyerre language), and attendant custodial responsibilities for nurturing the land and its bounty. Her genius stems from the individuations in her visual expressions of this nexus. In Kngwarreyes visual language, paintings are glorious manifestations of Country, awelye, and self the whole lot a concept that was ever present in her work, across all styles and periods.

Author and art academic Terry Smith pinpoints Kngwarreyes use of colour in the period 1990-93 as key to her artistic motivation and innovation.1 Kngwarreyes tireless exploration of colours potential to enunciate personal narratives is astounding, both in terms of her vision and artistic virtuosity. This high colourist period produced a body of marvellous works exhibiting powerful synergies of energy and colour, such as the present untitled work (Wildflower Dreaming), from 1992.

Janet Holt (Delmore Gallery) refers to 1992 as the artists famous early period, and has written that Kngwarreye was inspired by her paintings ability to conjure the fertile energy of her countrys life cycles, in particular the seasonal maturation of the anooralya (finger yam), an important element in awelye. In describing Kngwarreyes painterly lexicon, yellow is linked to the yams daisy flower, while trailings of different coloured dot work may indicate seasonal rains, as well as various levels of plant maturity. The flush of new growth that appears across Country after rain, Kngwarreye joyfully referred to as green time.

Kngwarreyes own energy and focus exploring these themes has resulted in an extraordinary body of sublime and celebrated work, within which the present work is a commanding example. (Wildflower Dreaming), 1992, is both celebratory and reverential: a joyous expression of the promise of bounty within Kngwarreyes Country.

The present work shares its compositional structure with several works in Kngwarreyes oeuvre from 1992 that celebrate the natural increase of the yam, sometimes referenced as yam increase centre. In these works, the energy of the radiating design is anchored at the centre, sometimes with the underlying yam design shown spiralling outwards, and at other times, and to different degrees, barely visible underneath dotted trailing lines of yam flowers.

The resulting compositions are suggestive of a powerful centrifugal force, which has physical manifestations and metaphorical meaning. The language employed by critics talking about this period demonstrates the emotive power with which these paintings radiate. Margot Neale makes the connection between Kngwarreyes lifetime of ceremonial dancing, singing and mark-making and the rhythm of her paintings, which often exhibit a circularity in their composition, akin to the way womens body marking is performed from breast to breast, arm to arm.2

Terry Smith also sees these works reflecting body marks that have cartwheeled into a plant form and postulates that these centrifugal compositions are performative, where the yam is present as an absence, and made apparent by the designs suggestion of a reaching in, in a digging motion, a scraping and a clearing of dirt.3

The present work also prefigures the artists later transition from dot work to lines, and is a delightful example of Modernist Paul Klees (1879-1940) assertion that a line is a dot going for a walk.4

Kngwarreyes significance was acknowledged and celebrated with the prestigious Australian Artists Creative Fellowship award, bestowed in 1992. Her work has rightfully held pride of place in several international exhibitions of Australian art, including the Venice Biennale in 1997, and her exceptional talent showcased in two solo retrospective exhibitions, most recently Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, which toured Japan in 2008.



1. Smith, Terry, Kngwarreye Woman Abstract Painter, in Isaacs, J., Smith, T., and Ryan, J., et al, Emily Kngwarreye Paintings, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1998, pp. 24-42

2. Neale, M., The Body in Two worlds: One Vision, Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, National Museum of Australia, ACT, 2008, p. 27

3. Smith, T., Op.cit., p. 33

4. Green, Jenny, Yam, in Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Op.cit., p. 168


Jane Raffan
BA Hons. (Fine Arts); Grad.Dip. Environmental Law (Ethical Dealing Art & Cultural Heritage)


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