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Mithinari Gurruwiwi

Australia 1929-1976
Gurruwiwi was an exceptional and prolific artist from the Blue Mud Bay area of north-east Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, who was taught to paint as a young man by Mawalan Marika. His works predominantly refer to the Galpu clans lands around Caledon Bay and Garrimala, further inland. Long after other artists began using European paintbrushes, he often continued working with brushes made of frayed stringy bark when applying background colour and drawing the main components, then infilled the design with brushes made of human hair or from the midrib of a palm frond.

Djaykung (File snakes) c1960

In 1965 Gurruwiwi received a letter from Pablo Picasso, declaring: ‘What I have been attempting to do all my life, you are now doing’.

Completed when Gurruwiwi was only 30, this is one of the finest bark paintings in the Gallery’s collection. It depicts waterlily-covered billabongs that are home to plump file snakes – valued food sources that are just part of the riches to be found in the lands of Gurruwiwi’s people. Like his other paintings, it combines figurative elements with abstract Galpu clan designs. Delicate dots, fine lines and intricate cross-hatching are contrasted with bold areas of pure colour.

Mithinari Gurruwiwi Djaykung (File snakes) c1960