Working in a remote, north-west corner of the Simpson Desert, on land annexed by pastoral leases during the 1920s, Emily Kame Kngwarreye became, in the final decade of her life, perhaps the most celebrated and sought after Australian artist of her time.
A leading figure in eastern Anmatyerr ceremony, Kngwarreye was also the artist in whose work many white Australians first felt the force of an Indigenous art that could be seen to negotiate a space both within the aesthetics of Western abstraction and the timeless precepts of Aboriginal cultural traditions.
Kngwarreye's 'Untitled (Alhalker)', 1992, has been perceived as a lyrical mapping of country, a poeticising of the desert in bloom, or simply as a spectacular abstract painting. Alhalker, the desert country of Kngwarreye's birth, is anchored by a sacred rock in the form of a spectacular arched monolith, and shaped by the vagaries of the harsh desert environment. From the beginning, Alhalker remained the means and end of Kngwarreye's art.
Kngwarreye attained artistic maturity as a woman in her seventies, not long converted to the techniques of painting on canvas, but with decades of painting in a ceremonial context and activity with the Utopia Women's Batik Group behind her – as well as life as a camel handler and stockhand. In an extraordinarily prolific eight years of professional painting, she produced magnificent canvases in which she appears to have aimed for essentialist visions of the multiplicities and connectedness of her country, as imaged in terms of its organic energies. Kngwarreye's vital traceries both conform to, and seem to expand beyond, her clan codes, in abstractions of ceremonial markings and imagery of her country's flora and fauna.
During the early 1990s, Kngwarreye developed a painting technique that literally embodied her sense of the explosive, yet ordered, rhythms of the natural world: she energetically worked her canvas with fluid dots or blobs of colour that formed a pulsing layer over the 'mapped-out' underpinnings of her paintings. Later, she embraced the austerities of stripe compositions in works such as 'Untitled (Awely)', 1994, and in seething, linear 'yam Dreaming' paintings, before she created the remarkable blocky gestural abstractions of 1996, the final year of her life.
Deborah Edwards in 'Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004
© Art Gallery of New South Wales
triptych: synthetic polymer paint on paper laminated to canvas
100.7 x 213.0 cm overall :
a - left panel; 100.7 x 71 cm
b - centre panel; 100.7 x 71 cm
c - right panel; 100.7 x 71 cm
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Not on display
© Emily Kam Ngwarray. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney
Where the work was made
Central and Western Desert
Shown in 4 exhibitions
Dead Sun, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 02 Oct 1997–09 Nov 1997
Emily Kame Kngwarreye - Alhalkere - Paintings from Utopia:
- Queensland Art Gallery, South Brisbane 20 Feb 1998–13 Apr 1998
- National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], Melbourne 08 Sep 1998–22 Nov 1998
Another Country, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 04 Jul 1999–02 Apr 2000
Emily Kame Kngwarreye:
Referenced in 8 publications
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Dead Sun, Sydney, 1997.
Jonathan Cooper (Editor), The Art Gallery of New South Wales Bulletin, 'Emily Kame Kngwarreye Alhalkere: Paintings from Utopia', pg. 8-8, Sydney, May 1998-Jul 1998, 8 (colour illus.).
Deborah Edwards, Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia, 'Emily Kame Kngwarreye', pg. 58, Sydney, 2004, 58 (colour illus.), 59 (colour illus., detail).
Stephen Farthing (Editor), 1001 paintings you must see before you die, London, 2007, (colour illus.).
Margo Neale and Akira Tatehata, Emily Kame Kngwarreye: Utopia: the genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, 'Body Lines', pg.163, Japan, 2008, 168 (colour illus., detail). cat.no. B-4
Margo Neale, Roger Benjamin, Anne Brody, Christopher Hodges, Philip Morrissey, Judith Ryan and Greg Weight, Emily Kame Kngwarreye - Alhalkere - Paintings from Utopia, South Yarra, 1998, 61, 121 (colour illus.). plate no. 77, cat.no. 71
Leon Paroissien and Dinah Dysart (Editors), Art and Australia (Vol. 34, No. 3), Sydney, Jan 1997-Mar 1997, cover (colour illus.), 3 (colour illus.). Both images are seen in detail.
Hetti Perkins, Art + soul: a journey into the world of Aboriginal art, 'Dreams + nightmares', pg. 88-153, Carlton, 2010, 144-145 (colour illus.), 281.