Menzies Art Brands



Working within the long tradition of bark painting, John Mawurndjuls work explores themes of spirituality, mythology and life cycles. He was born c1952 at Mumeka, prior to the establishment of the government settlement at Maningrida some 50 kilometres to the north. He grew up with his family outside the sphere of European influence living according to the rhythms of nature, moving camps with the changing seasons, from Mumeka to Maningrida during the wet season and onto the Tomkinson flood plain in the dry season. With his mother, Mary Wurrdjedje and father, Anchor Kulunba, Mawurndjul continued this pattern into in his adulthood, later accompanied by his wife, Kay Lindjuwanga and their seven children. However, in the 1980s, he followed his older brother Jimmy Njiminjuma and relocated more permanently to an outstation at Milmilngkan.

Mawurndjuls brother, Jimmy Njiminjuma, introduced the artist to painting and the technique of cross-hatching. He started to paint on small barks depicting natural species and mythological beings such as Ngalyod the rainbow serpent that guards sacred sites (djang) in all western Arnhem Land. Towards the end of the 1980s, he began producing large and more elaborate paintings with complex arrangements of figures.  Mawurndjuls art continued to evolve throughout the 1990s as he perpetually simplified and purified his style to create an increasingly metaphysical form of abstraction with a compelling and esoteric geometry that has a three-dimensional quality1

The present work, Narmarden (Female Lightning Spirit), is an exceptional example of the artists bark paintings from the 1990s. The figure within the composition represents the female lightning spirit, Namarrkon ngal-daluk. The fine, iridescent rarrk across the figures body captures the almost electric, radiating power of this being.

Since his first exhibition in 1982 Mawurndjul has become one of Australias most widely recognised artists. In 1989 he was included in the landmark exhibition Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Pompidou and Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris, and his works have been included in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Sydney, New York, Paris and Tokyo. His work was the subject of a major survey exhibition at the Museum Tinguely, Basel, Switzerland in 2005. In 2006, Mawurndjul became one of eight artists to have work included in the largest international commission of contemporary Indigenous art from Australia at the Muse du Quai Branly in Paris. His work is represented in the collections of major public institutions in Australia and internationally.

1. Ryan, J., John Mawurndjul: Abstract Vision, Art & Australia, Spring 2004, vol.42, p.64

Caroline Jones MArtAdmin

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