Anna Petyarre and the Lands of Central Australia

In Gallery Two, we have a new collection of Anna Petyarre’s latest works, mostly in black and white. These are inspiring paintings – we think these are the finest works she’s painted in the last ten years.

Anna Petyarre - Sandhills and River Bed Country

Anna is from the famous Petyarre family – Gloria Petyarre and many of her aunts are among the best known artists from Utopia. Anna has perfected the use of black and white fine dot work, in a series of paintings about the landscape of her ancestral country.

Utopia is in the region of Central Australia to the east of Alice Springs, part of Australia where the rivers don’t run towards the coast. They run into the heart of the desert, and ultimately, if they flow, they flow into Lake Eyre, or Kati Thanda in the local language. These rivers are the classic upside-down rivers of the desert, filled with sand from bank to bank, and underneath there is water throughout the dry season.

Aboriginal people use the asset of the river and the underground water and keep the knowledge of the country and its food and water resources. This river system although dry for 95% of the time is a very important aspect of the landscape.

Anna has created the sinewy, twisting image of those rivers winding through the flat landscape and being surrounded by the desert sandhills. It gives her the formative pattern that she works into the paintings.

Anna Petyarre - Sandhills and River Bed Country

Within some paintings there is also a map of significant sites, either for food gathering or occasionally ceremonial grounds. They’re very organic, very delicately painted, very impressive paintings. I think this collection is the best statement about her country that we have seen for a decade.

Some of the paintings are ninety by sixty centimetres, so quite moderate in scale, but they still have an evocative sense of movement and are extremely fine works on that scale.

The paintings have the capacity to present the big landscape image, even on a small canvas, and they’re very beautiful works. The biggest works are around two metres in length and provide  a more expansive vision. Several of these works incorporate small areas of intense colour to highlight areas of significance and areas where food is gathered.

These paintings are extraordinary. When you come into a room with Anna Petyarre’s work you feel like she’s taking a huge landscape format and creating it within the boundaries of the canvas in front of her. She uses very minimal effects so it is mostly a black and white artwork, but with great imagery and perspective. There’s movement, there’s flow and there’s the whole organic interaction of the landscape with the dry river beds and sandhills.

Anna Petyarre - Sandhills and River Bed Country

My feeling is that Anna’s work has a sense of elegance, it’s very refined. She creates the entire concept of  landscape purely using white dots on a black canvas, and it is a big vision which is particular to her art. More recently Anna shares some of these stories with her sister Delvine Petyarre, but Anna is the standout landscape painter from the Utopia Homelands of Central Australia.

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