The group of Warlpiri artists who work at Warlukurlangu Art Centre in Central Australia are one of the strongest and most consistent art communities working in remote Australia. They have been exhibiting with us for over a dozen years. As the generations flow through, some very important artists have come and gone in the history of Warlpiri art from this region.
One of the big paintings in the current exhibition, which is titled Land and Sky, is a Water Dreaming story by Sabrina Nangala Robertson. Sabrina is the daughter of the late Dorothy Napangardi. Dorothy’s focus on very fine dot work and more particularly the rhythm of the landscape as it draws across a large canvas, has been carried on by her daughter.
This is a canvas that is 2.4 metres across and very intricately detailed in earth colours. The work is all finely dotted and represents one of those great Jukurrpa or Dreaming stories that come from this part of the country. This is a feature of all the work from Yuendumu. There’s always a strong focus on the Jukurrpa, on the stories of Country that belong to the families and the artists. We often see ten or fifteen different Dreaming stories being illustrated in an exhibition from Yuendumu. This is a big, impressive, delightful, highly earth-toned painting created by the new generation of artists coming from this community.
Another of the great families of painters from the community is carrying on the tradition in the work of Athena Nangala Granites. Athena paints the Seven Sisters Dreaming story that was a feature of her grandmother’s work, the great Alma Nungarrayi Granites, who passed away in 2017. Alma, in turn, inherited the story through her father Paddy Japaljarri Sims , and both her parents Paddy and Bessie Sims were great painters. We’re seeing fourth generation artists here producing wonderful visions of that big Seven Sisters Dreaming story. It is a huge songline that crosses the lands of many different language groups in Central Australia.
These works have an Alma Granites’s feel to them in that they are like celestial energy sources. You can see the stars, you can see the energy and the space that’s happening. They’re cosmic, they’re colourful, they’re energetic. They recreate the amazing night skies that you can observe in the desert. They vary in their tones, some are in inky blacks and reds, and others are in tones of blue and softer colours. The story of the Seven Sisters continues to be painted by a wonderful new talent in Athena Granites from that very talented family.
Another exciting artist in the new generation of painters from Yuendumu is Steven Jupurrula Nelson. He has taken a contemporary approach to depicting the Dreaming story of the Brush Tail Possum. There are elements of calligraphy that suggest the movement of the possum. There’s the tail-like swish of colour across the canvas, a high-energy line that suggests an animal moving across country.
In the background, we’ve got a contemporary approach to applying paint. There’s large splashy blocks of contrasting colour, light and dark. The significant thing is that even while talking about a very old Dreaming narrative, the contemporary feel of the paint and the energy from the artwork is something that’s very distinctive and representative of this community. They find new ways to tell old stories and new ways to make fascinating paintings.
Pauline Napangardi Gallagher has painted one of the great stories, Mina Mina Jukurrpa, a major women’s Dreaming site in the Tanami Desert. It is a very sacred site that is used by people from a wide area of the desert lands. Her painting, which is a large canvas 1.8 meters across, has a strong sense of the songline or Dreaming track moving across the canvas. This, in blue and white, contrasts with an intense magenta and purple section in the middle of the painting. This section is created in strong texture with paint being thrown and dripped across the canvas. There’s a sense of movement going across the space, and significantly this ceremonial site is located on salt lake country, and sits on the songline where the women Ancestors crossed the desert, bringing digging sticks and creating significant sites for Warlpiri people.
Pauline Gallagher’s other painting on the same subject of Mina Mina Jukurrpa is very different. It is a complex design made of lots of parallel lines grouped in circles and triangles. The whole design is interspersed with rows of dots in various colours. We’ve got an all-over design that is intense and extends across the total area of the canvas. It’s a 1.8 metre painting in tonal colours that merge together, so there are mauves and blues and oranges, but pulled back in their intensity. The whole painting has an unusual association for although it’s connected to the women’s Dreaming site Mina Mina, it’s also a complex design that reminds us of other design styles from across the world.
Sarah Napurrurla Leo is another younger artists who is new to us. Her images are of Ngapa Jukurrpa, or the Water Dreaming story that belongs to her family. She has created designs based on concentric bands of colour made up entirely of dots. We have a large canvas that is 1.5 meters by 1.2 meters, and is entirely made up of parallel bands of colour radiating out from the Dreaming site. Sarah has also created a number of smaller works as variations on this theme, sometimes staying with the earth tones and sometimes moving into blues and other tones.
A very small painting from Kershini Napaljarri Collins focuses on another wonderful story, the Budgerigar Dreaming story from Central Australia. Although a small painting it has all the complexities of the landscape, and the large flocks of budgerigars that return to their breeding grounds are marked as little crosses. This is pretty much what we experience when the birds fly overhead. They’re so small and they register as little crosses as their shadows rush across the earth. This is a wonderful little painting that captures the spirit of Budgerigar Dreaming.