One of my favourite paintings from the current exhibition, Utopia Artists - Painting on Country, is a three-metre painting by Elizabeth Kunoth Kngwarray, and it feels like a desert landscape. It's got the look of cracked earth on clay or salt pan country.
The title of the painting is Yam Seeds in my Grandmother's Country, and the artist refers to her Ancestral lands and the importance of the Yam Seed creation story. In this Dreamtime story the winds blew from all directions and they scattered the yam seeds across all the traditional lands of Aboriginal people.
The painting is a recognition of the Creation era on the artist's Country and it's also a homage to the great Yam story, which is shared by many of the desert Aboriginal people. It is important from a ceremonial perspective. The yam is also an important food source and therefore central to traditional life in this country.
This is an archetypal Australian landscape. It's vast, it has modulations of colour and tone across the vast expanse of the painting. It is dominated by orange and reddish tones, with lots of contrasting colours in the very fine dot work. The whole painting hums with energy.
Elizabeth is one of the great fine dot painters from the communities at Utopia. Her family produces some of the best paintings that epitomise the ceremonial importance and attachment to Country for her people.
The main feature wall has three big paintings by Cowboy Loy Pwerl, senior custodian for the Bush Turkey Dreaming story. These paintings are highly geometrical and use refined dot-work in their structures. They reflect Cowboy's custodial role in this Dreaming story from Utopia lands.
The colours are what catch your eye immediately. Of the three paintings, one is aqua green, one is a very pale mauve purple, and the other is red. These are the colours of Country reflected at different times and during different seasons. On top of that, the artist has this shimmering pattern of dots, related to the Bush Turkey story.
This art reflects the shimmering feather colours of the bird itself. The painting is also talking about the essential Creation stories of Country. These are geometric paintings, representing Country as well as Dreaming stories on Country. It's almost like a core design that repeats itself to create the entire universe of the Dreaming.
There are four of five major Dreaming stories in this Utopia artists' exhibition. Kathleen Ngal draws on the Bush Plum story. It reveals layers of colour and veils of dots that hover over the top of each other and bring us the different stages of the plants and the seeds as they mature.
In this particular painting we have a predominance of white dots, and below that we also have blacks and golds, yellows and greens. The overall contrast between the different aspects of the painting is like the whole story of the Bush Plum Dreaming. These are not made up of fine dots. This is a medium scale of dotting, but what happens here is the layers of colour draw us deeper into the painting.
At the far end of the gallery we have a painting by Nancy Kunoth Petyarr called Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming. This painting reflects the patterns that are on the reptilian back of the Mountain Devil Lizard. Diagonally running through the painting is a long stripe which is part of the armour of the Mountain Devil Lizard, but also the Dreaming track that drives right through Utopia Country. This forms a major Creation story. The artist epitomises the patterning and the vast scale of that Dreaming story from her Country.
A younger artist represented in the exhibition is Belinda Golder Kngwarreye. Her theme is also the Bush Plum Dreaming story that she receives from her grandmother, the famous artist Polly Ngal. Belinda also uses a broad dotting effect, where the brush is used to make large vibrant dots that merge when painted wet-on-wet, so the colours blend together.
This is the other end of the painting technique that Utopia artists are using. Once again we have all the colours of the transition of the Bush Plum from immature fruit through to fully ripe fruit. The painting is dominated by an area of brilliant red and contrasting pink colours against the darker colours on the perimeters of the painting.