Defining Tradition | The Colourists

Welcome to our second exhibition in the ‘defining tradition’ exhibition series. In this show, we’re celebrating the trailblazing artists who pursued an adventurous use of colour. 


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Our inaugural ‘defining tradition’ exhibition in January, titled ‘the first wave & its disciples’, focused on the genesis of the western desert art movement at Papunya in 1971, when senior men essentially invented a new art form. We presented artists that have remained the faithful disciples of the muted colour palettes and powerful expression of Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) as first set down by those pioneers of western desert art. 

For many visitors to the gallery, the natural ochre pigments on display are what they had considered ‘traditional’ or the quintessential colours of Aboriginal art. Our second exhibition, ‘the colourists’, unveils that in experimenting with acrylics in Papunya in the 1970s, another great tradition was ignited - the use of bright colour.

As we completed hanging ‘the colourists’ exhibition, we couldn’t help but feel that the space was brighter, lighter and felt more uplifting. Our eyes were dancing around the space as we followed the sensuous pinks and reds found in Tommy Watson’s artworks, travelled across the dynamic lines of colour in Judy Watson Napangardi’s work, and felt the raw power in Lorna Fencer’s ‘Warna (Snake)’.

Before we delve deeper and discuss some of the fantastic artworks on display, we need to take a moment and debunk the notion that there’s none of this vibrant colour occurring naturally in the Australian landscape; that these artworks are somehow not an accurate or ‘authentic’ depiction of the Australian landscape. As I leave the urban jungle of Sydney - with its hazy air and restricted colour palette - and head to the ‘red centre’ of Alice Springs, the difference in colour is immense. The clean air, the bright Australian light and sensational contrasting colours sends my colour perception off the scale and everything is more intense. The mineral rich earth and stone also reflects a multitude of colours - making sunrise and sunset an incredibly magical time of the day. Everything does just seem more rich and vibrant in this special part of the world, with many landscape photographers commenting they have rarely seen the intensity of natural colour as found in our own backyard.

And then there is that magical time of the year, when for a few weeks the desert is blanketed with wildflowers. As far as the eye can see, there are vibrant splashes of blue, purple, yellow, along with more subtle pastel hues. It can be argued that many of the artists represented in this show are simply painting with colours they have experienced on Country. For me, this is perfectly typified by Polly Ngale’s gorgeous piece titled ‘Bush Plum’. Polly Ngale belongs to the oldest living generation of Utopia women and is considered one of the most accomplished painters to have worked there during the past twenty years. Polly’s artistic career began in the late 1970s when she, like many of the women in Utopia, began working with silk batik before venturing into works on canvas[1].

Polly Ngale ' Bush Plum' PNGG0024 

Most of Polly Ngale's paintings are centred around the 'Bush Plum'(or Conkerberry tree) and range from extremely fine dotting techniques with either interspersed colours or areas of varying colours and depth all blending together across the canvas. Through extensive over-dotting, she builds up layers of colour, blending or separate, to give a wealth of different and very attractive paint effects.

The Bush Plum - which is central to many of the works of artists’ of the Utopia community - provides an important food source for the Anmatyerre people and is frequently featured in the Women's dreaming stories. The fruits are harvested by shaking the trees until they fall to the ground but the fruits, although already quite sweet, need to be soaked in water to soften and plump them up for eating. The Bush Plum tree flowers in Spring and many of Polly's paintings have a distinctly Springtime air to them - one can readily sense a host of blossoms in her works.

Alternatively, some artists have used an adventurous colour palette to capture the energy or emotion of a site or Tjukurrpa (Dreaming). Lockhart River artist Samantha Hobson has an incredible ability to capture the colour and intensity of a moment and transform its radiant energy into an emotional charge pulsating through the artwork. Her Great Barrier Reef Series captures the jewel like quality of this pristine natural wonder, with bold splashes of paint conjuring those twinkling seconds a wave breaks. Her Series leaves the viewer feeling energised, much like a dip in the fresh saltwater.  Art historian Sally Butler perfectly explains Samantha Hobson’s work as “close to abstract expressionism, but there is always something that keeps it in touch with visible reality. This is because her art is about seeing the world, not a way of imagining it”. 

Samantha Hobson 'Great Barrier Reef Series - Coral Sea Dreaming III' SH20170909 

Another fantastic example of colour being used to express an emotion is Betty Mbitjana’s ‘Awelye’ - in this artwork Betty depicts the designs that the women would paint on their bodies, and the dancing tracks which are made in the sand during the women's awelye ceremony. Betty has chosen an array of bright, bold colours.  For me, this is the happiest artwork of the entire exhibition. If feels as if Betty is expressing the joy and celebration that occurs during the awelye ceremony. Betty’s artworks have a fantastic sense of greeting, and have a very uplifting effect in any area where they hang.

Another interesting item to consider when viewing ‘the colourists’ exhibition is how the artist has applied colour to the canvas. It is well known that the late Kudditji Kngwarreye would sing while he painted, as if to infuse the paint with his songlines and stories of Country. In the case of Judy Watson Napangardi, her brush was loaded with original and vital colour which she shuffled across the canvas, never losing connection between the brush and canvas. Interestingly, it is said that the ancestral women danced across country, and Warlpiri women of today channel their ancestors when they dance in ceremony, shuffling through the sand, never losing connection to Country. The method in which the paint has been applied could also imply a deep, ancient tradition. 

 Judy Watson Napangardi painting

Judy Watson Napangardi was one of the trailblazing artists at Yuendumu, who cemented Warlukurlangu Art Centre’s reputation for their bold use of colour through an unrestricted palette[2]. Another early distinctive feature was the use of very traditional iconography. As explained by Warlukurlangu Art Centre, “the artists painted Jukurrpa (dreaming story), ensuring appropriate Warlpiri relationships of kirda (owners) and kurdugurlu (guardians) were followed and the images reflected the social and cultural obligations present in ceremonies and day-to-day life in the community. The kurawarri, the iconographic elements of a painting that held the story, were painted first and scrutinized by others for their adherence to Jukurrpa. The dotting that filled the canvases was less important, and many artists developed varying styles of application and experimented with different colours while maintaining a consistency in their presentation of kuruwarri”.

Nowadays, the paintings tell the story of the artists’ connection to their country, the features of the landscape, the plants and animals that are found there and the creation story that occurred in the Dreamtime. These stories are still very relevant to the artists today. Artists have their own particular styles or palettes, and constantly experiment and vary their paintings, so the works are constantly evolving.

As I walk through ‘the colourists’ exhibition, I also love how the art captures a sense of the artists personality - none more so than the incomparable Lorna Fencer Napurrula. We have created our own Lorna Fencer Photo Page to give you some insight into the persona of the artist and I think help to put her bold and uncompromising artwork into context.

Whilst many of the trailblazing artists featured in the show are no longer with us, it is heartening to see the next generation taking up the brush. In this exhibition alone we have artworks by the great Minnie Pwerle, her daughters Betty Mbitjana and Barbara Weir, and granddaughter Charmaine Pwerle (Barbara Weir’s daughter).

Coming away from ‘defining tradition | the colourist’ exhibition, I realise that no artist can work in a vacuum. We are all influenced by what we see around us. Painters are influenced by what other painters did before them. The colours we see and use, the effects in nature we try to convey, the things which inspire us and make us want to paint; all these reactions are conditioned by the traditions we respect and the influences and conventions we absorb - many of them unconsciously.

I encourage you all to see this monumental display of artworks and get some colour into your life!

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[1] Preceding the expansion of the Papunya Tula movement to communities such as Yuendumu and Balgo Hills in the mid 1980s, Pitjantjatjara women in Ernabella and Anmnatyerr/Alyawarr women at Utopia station celebrated colour in their fluid batiks, before making the transition to canvas in the late 1980’s, when the art world really began to take notice.

[2] In the early 1970s Paddy Japaljarri Stewart was involved in the painting of the mural on the Papunya School wall. In 1983 he and Paddy Japaljarri Sims were instrumental together with other senior men in the painting of the now famous Yuendumu school doors. They went on with other senior leaders including Darby Jampinjnpa Ross, Jack Jakamarra Ross, Samson Japaljarri Martin and senior women including Uni Nampijinpa Martin, Dolly Nampijinpa Daniels, Rosie Nangala Fleming and Maggie Napangardi Watson to found the Warlukurlangu art centre in 1985. It was incorporated in 1986.


Defining Tradition: exhibitions exploring the evolution of aboriginal art

Defining Tradition | the first wave and & its disciples
19 january - 17 february 2019


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This year, we thought we’d try something different with our exhibition schedule. Don’t worry, the stellar solo shows and hugely popular artist in residence programs will still appear in the 2019 calendar, but we also wanted to provide our art-loving clients with some more weighty exhibitions to help contextualise the 2,0+ artworks stored in our gallery. So, starting in January 2019 we’ll kick off a series of exhibitions exploring the notion of ‘tradition’ in Aboriginal Art [1].

Aboriginal art is clearly in a category of its own and whilst it may be tempting to use modern art criteria to assess the works, Aboriginal art does not fit neatly into the mould of art in the Western sense. The world’s oldest living culture is organic and constantly evolving. So too is its art. And after over 40 years of employing non-indigenous media, the history of contemporary Indigenous art in Australia is marked by stories of great artists who have inspired other close or extended kin to follow their direction, resulting in a number of distinct schools, lineages or ‘traditions’.

The first wave & its disciples will present artists that have remained faithful disciples of the muted colour palettes and powerful expression of Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) as first set down by the pioneers of western desert art, those present in the remote community of Papunya in 1971.


 

So – where to begin our ‘defining tradition’ exhibition series? For us the answer was quite clear, as we are fortunate enough to have this exceptional piece by one of the founding Papunya Tula artists hanging in our gallery:

 Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula 'Water Dreaming Kalipinypa' JWJG0001 122 x 211cm

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula was part of the Old Pintupi [2] when Geoff Bardon arrived in Papunya and was one of eight men in the first Papunya consignments to the Stuart Art Centre in 1971.

Johnny rapidly developed a distinctive style of his own which came to be known as 'over-dotting'. He uses several layers of dots to depict his Dreamings, which consist of Water, Fire, Yam and Egret stories. Geoffrey Bardon labelled this stylistic layering effect as 'tremulous illusion' and in his book Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert, Bardon fondly recollects images of Johnny painting with an "intense level of intuitive concentration".

This piece was painted in 1999 and features the established imagery of Johnny's Dreamings overpainted to hide the secret and sacred elements. Where he was once known for his delicate and soft white dotting, he attacked the canvas to tell the story with great gusto. He jabbed large dots on to the surface and produced roundels and symbols for weapons with great sweeps of his arm and the brush.  After nearly 30 years of painting, and perhaps due to his failing health and eye-sight, Johnny painted with a new-found freedom, both in expression and in painting technique.

The combination of Tingari or Dreaming motifs used to describe the culture and country of these senior men formed the basis of the abstracted dot designs that both described and disguised some of the great creation narratives from their heritage.

Our exhibition title ‘the first wave & its disciples' references this first wave of artists who painted in such a manner, and the faithful disciples who have maintained their artistic traditions. Many of these disciples began their artistic practice by assisting family members to infill areas of the background of the paintings; a collaborative process which was instrumental in the development of future generations of painters. As male collaborators themselves became artists in their own right, the role of women as assistants began.

Johnny Yungut Tjupurrula's tutelage had obvious incarnations in his wife, Walangkura Napanagka's works. Johnny Yungut was an "integral part of the Papunya Tula Artists for his entire artistic career, as well as being a highly respected cultural figure within the Pintupi Community" [3]. Tracks and features of the land are outlined in solid black brushstrokes, followed by meticulous dot work in vivid orange red and yellow.

Returning to their traditional country during the homelands movement of the 1980s, Walangkura participated in the historic women's collaborative painting project in Kintore in 1994 that was initiated by the older women as a means of re-affirming their own spiritual and ancestral roots. The huge and colourful canvases that emerged from the women's camp were 'alive with the ritual excitement and narrative intensity of the occasion' (Johnson 2000: 197). Within a year, Papunya Tula Artists, now established at Kintore, had taken on many of these women as full-time artists, revitalising the company after the deaths of many of the original 'painting men'.

Walangkura Napanangka, 'Tjintjintjin' WNAS0004,138 x 138cm, Acrylic on Linen 

Walangkura's early works created from 1996 onward are characterised by masses of small markings and motifs covering large areas of canvas. Her favourite colour, a deep sandy orange predominates, accentuated against more sombre blacks and reds and dusky greens or yellows. More recent works show a gestural quality though still tightly packed with an intensity of geometric line work representing sand-hills. Like Johnny Yungut's, these dynamic compositions are singular in their vision and voice and now Walangkura’s eldest daughter, Debra Young Nakamarra, also creates works of unique energy and vigour.

The widow of Yala Yala Gibbs Tjungurrayi (a highly respected Pintupi elder who held significant knowledge of his countries Dreaming stories), Ningura Napurrula, first began to paint in her own right in 1995 in the second year of the Haasts Bluff/Kintore women’s painting project. Whilst Ningura’s art may appear looser and more tranquil, there is a strong narrative element to her paintings.

Ningura Napurrula 'Wirrulnga' NING0017 92 x 151cm, Acrylic on Linen

Her use of a limited palette emphasises the structural elements of her work and slight tonal variations of cream and white move the viewer’s eye around the surface of the paintings. Yala Yala Gibbs used a similar limited colour palette, in works such as Yawulyurru (1972, NGV Collection).  Ningura's paintings often relate to the rock-hole sites of Wirrulnga and Ngaminya, which are to the east of Kiwirrkurra. The site of Wirrulnga is associated with birth; at these sites women hair is spun to form nyimparra (hair-string skirts) which are worn during ceremony.

Yinarupa Nangala was a co-wife with, amongst others, Ningura Napurrula, of Yala Yala Gibbs. Yinarupa also started to paint in 1996. However, for some time she gained only moderate recognition for her works. This gradually changed in the late 2000s and by 2009 her austere style was finally recognised for what it is, classic Pintupi art at its best.

Yinarupa Nangala 'Untitled – YNAG0059', 150 x 209cm, Acrylic on Linen

She paints the country around Mukula and the women's ceremony associated with it. The story is passed down from her father's mother. The shapes in the painting represent the features of the country, as well as bush foods. Women are represented by the 'U' shapes and kampararpa berries are represented by the circles.  The tree like shapes that run across her paintings are the trees used to make spears. This is Yinarupa's unique representation of the story that Turkey Tolsen and his sister, Mitjili Napurrula, paint (both of whom are also family).

Pulling the show together is Naata Nungurrayi’s exceptional work Marrapinti. Naata’s paintings combine the carefully composed geometric style that developed at Papunya amongst the Pintupi painting men, with the looser technique and more painterly organic style introduced by the women after the paintings camps of the early and mid 1990s.

Naata Nungurrayi 'Marrapinti – NA201228', 183 x 245cm, Acrylic on Linen

The western desert painting movement initiated by senior Pintupi men in the early 1970s has developed at a rapid pace and pushed down new pathways, some of which we will explore in upcoming exhibitions. The first wave & its disciples is a thoughtful collection of works from the Kate Owen Gallery stockroom which provides a way of looking back while looking forward.

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[1]All too often in the gallery, the word ‘traditional’ is thrown around – what does that mean and look like with regards to Aboriginal Art?

Our common understanding of the word ‘traditional’ is as something existing in or as part of a tradition; something long-established.

It is useful to look at the concept of “traditional” in the context of the western desert art movement. In 1971 in the community of Papunya, a group of Pintupi, Luritja, Arrernte, Anmatyerre and Warlpiri men began to turn traditional designs involved in ceremony, body decoration and cave painting into a new and commoditised form – acrylic paintings on a flat surface.

In 1982 archaeologist Vincent Megaw pointed out that this art cannot really be described as ‘traditional’ since it began with interactions with a cultural outsider, Geoff Bardon, the works are produced for an external market and are not produced for local use. Yet, as Fred Meyers explains, the formal elements and inspiration for most of the paintings, early and late, grew out of an Indigenous system of representing in visual media.

Perhaps that is why the term ‘contemporary Aboriginal art’ came in to the play – ‘contemporary’ simply means ‘to be of one’s time’, which is precisely what the art produced since 1971 in Papunya has been; artists laying down their ancient Tjukurrpa and tradition of ritual on and with new artistic media.  Yes, the art is produced for an external market and has become an object of trade, but the intellectual content is inherent and, as Jennifer Isaacs described, is a way of spreading information and knowledge, and strengthening Aboriginal power.

[2] ‘Old Pintupi’ refers to the Pintupi people in Papunya who had experienced longer and more direct contact with the Lutheran missionaries and government officials as opposed to the ‘New Pintupi’ who arrived in Papunya in the early 1960s.

[3] Papunya Tula Artists, JOHNNY YUNGUT TJUPURRULA @ ReDot Gallery Singapore, Nov 2 – Dec 8, 2017


Desert Mob 2018

The feature artwork for Desert Mob 2018, ‘Ngura (Country)’, a collaborative work by Mumu Mike Williams, Kunmanara Martin and Sammy Dodd of Mimili Maku Arts

Earlier this year, the Kate Owen Gallery team attended Desert Mob in Alice Springs. Desert Mob is a unique annual event that brings art centres from across the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. The Desert Mob opening, including Exhibition, Symposium and MarketPlace, is an opportunity to view new developments in Aboriginal art, to meet the artists, listen to their stories and share their culture in the heart of their country.

The Desert Mob exhibition at the Araluen Arts Centre is a real highlight - and we love seeing the latest works from the artists and art centres that Kate Owen gallery proudly represents. Please enjoy this little video of our Gallery Director in front of the Warlukurlangu Arts Centre hang in the annual Desert Mob exhibition. At Kate Owen Gallery, we have a beautiful range of artworks from Warlukulangu. Simply head over to our Art Search Tool and in 'Region' select the community of Yuendumu - you'll be spoilt for choice! 

Kate Owen Gallery was also lucky enough to acquire two stunning pieces from Kaltjiti Arts while in Alice Springs:


Mamungari'nya - MALHF18-70 by Manyitjanu Lennon

Manyitjanu is a highly respected senior elder and holds extensive cultural knowledge. As a senior artist at Kaltjiti Arts, Manitjanu also works on major collaborative pieces, which are used to teach younger generations skills in painting technique and storytelling, ensuring rich cultural integrity is maintained. Manitjanu has five children and four grandchildren.


Mamungari'nya - PTSHF17-361 by Pollyanne Tjungkaya Smith

Pollyanne has been an Anangu Education Worker at the Fregon Anangu School since 1994, and paints after school and during the holiday periods. Pollyanne paints the country of her mother; to the north, yet close to Watarru, is Untju-ku ngura, her mother's birthplace. A large hill with a rockhole in the middle is a distinguishing feature of this country.


A Day in Utopia with Barbara Weir

Earlier this year, we visited the remote community of Utopia (Urapuntja) with renowned artist Barbara Weir. Here, KOG Crew member, Elizabeth Geyer, recalls some of the highlights of the day.

article          |         video


 

Visiting Utopia as a day trip from Alice Springs is not for the faint hearted. Expect to leave Alice Springs well before the sun rises!

With our supplies packed in the troopie the night before, we were ready to pick up renowned artist Barbara Weir and hit the highway, pronto. En route to Barbara’s place, I spread out in the back of the troopie and made myself comfortable – with only four people in a vehicle that can hold up to eleven, I was hoping I could catch up on a few zzz’s I had lost that morning. But as we pulled up to Barbara’s  house that fantasy quickly subsided.

Despite Barbara being in her 70s, she was the most energetic of all of us and quickly instructed us what to load in to the troopie. Barbara had purchased an incredible amount of food for her family who we’d be visiting that day. As the massive drums of food essentials piled in, I realized it was going to be a cosy ride to Utopia. With the back doors squeezed shut, we were ready to start the 300km journey to Utopia.

Our early start was rewarded with a spectacular sunrise. Already well on our way, but hours of driving left, we stopped and enjoyed the sunrise until the sun started to sear the first blades of grass. Then we were on the road again, knowing the day had begun.

For some, the Sandover Highway may just be a very long (560km long to be exact!) dirt track. But the places and people who live along the road are quite extraordinary. And if you’re an art buff, you’ll know the community of Utopia is home to some of Australia’s greatest artists. We took a moment to say farewell to the bitumen road, and embrace the glorious red earth ahead of us.

Mt Skinner cattle station, roughly 200km north-east of Alice Springs, is the first property we passed on the Sandover Highway. Whilst the cattle set against the desert landscape has a visual contradiction for some, they were very healthy and completely content in their surroundings. Utopia station was once a cattle farm too; the land was leased by German settlers in the 1920s that set up a station and homestead – apparently called ‘Utopia’ due to the abundance of wild rabbits. So I assume Mt Skinner Station it is a window of what Utopia once was for a short period of time. In 1979 the Anmatyerre and Alyawarr peoples gained freehold title to the Utopia Pastoral Lease under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. 

Over an hour of travelling on the bumpy dirt road and we reached the stock grid dividing Mt Skinner Station and Utopia Station. My first impression of Utopia was that there were a surprising amount of shrubs, bush grass, even gum trees in certain areas – which suggests a good source of water. Despite visiting at a drier time of the year, we were still able to see a beautiful variation in vegetation, and vibrant bursts of colour from the wild flowers. I can only image the colour punctuating the landscape in spring!

The bitumen greeted us for a few short kilometers while we visited Alparra, one of the 16 outstations and camps spread over approximately 1000 square kilometres of land. Alparra is home to the local store, school and AFL field – which hosted a big game the night before – so Alparra was buzzing as we waited for the local store to open. If you ever visit Alparra, make sure you stop at the local store as it also houses the local ‘trophy cabinet’ for the community – and they’ve won plenty of very impressive trophies!!

As we enjoyed our breakfast and succumbed to the devoted eyes of some of the community dogs – Barbara was already busy catching up with family. We continued on our journey, first stop: Atnwengerrp.

I was very excited to visit Atnwengerrp (pronounced ‘a-noong-a-pa’) as this is the title given to many of Minnie Pwerle and Barbara Weir’s artworks. Kate Owen Gallery also held an exhibition and artist in residence program a couple of years ago titled ‘Atnwengerrp Revisited’ with Barbara Weir, Lizzie Pwerle, Charmaine Pwerle, and Teresa Purla. I had to pinch myself that I was about to be on the Country which is home to (and to which has served as artistic inspiration) for some of Australia’s greatest artists.

It was a delight to pull up in the troopie and see some familiar faces like Lizzie and Teresa, and to be introduced to a whole host of family members. Anmatyerre and Alyawarre language was flowing as everyone caught up.

Teresa took us on a tour of Atnwengerrp outstation – as well as a great artist, Teresa has served on the Board of the Urapuntja Council Aboriginal Corporation for the last 15 years, and she was eager to highlight the improvements that had been made in Atnwengerrp. The Urapuntja Council Aboriginal Corporation is the administrative body responsible for service delivery to the Anmatyerre and Alyawarra speaking people who live on the Angarapa and Alyawarra Land Trusts, covering some 3,230 square kilometers. Teresa is now the vice-chairman of the Urapuntja Council, which is hugely rewarding, but due to her many commitments she has had limited time to devote to her artwork. Teresa showed us some artworks she had been working on in her limited spare time and they are spectacular – make sure you keep an eye on our newest artworks page for when they arrive in the gallery!

Teresa then took us to meet three esteemed elders and legendary artists, Galya, Molly and Emily Pwerle.  Three sisters and matriarchs who witnessed their late sister, Minnie Pwerle, skyrocket to dizzying heights of the contemporary Australian art scene, and now paint in their own right on country – rarely leaving their home for the ‘big smoke’ of Alice Springs.

Despite Galya and Emily being in their 80s, and Molly in her 90s, they walked up unaided to meet us and took great delight when we asked if we could take some photos (Molly LOVES the camera!). What struck me was the pure, unadulterated happiness and openness with which we were met. Despite living in one of the most remote places in Australia, it appeared the sisters’ health, happiness and overall wellbeing surpassed many people their age in Alice Springs, or Sydney for that matter.

After a quick lunch Barbara was ready to hit the road again – she had many other outstations she wanted to visit that day and unlike us, she knew what the road conditions would be like ahead! We waved good bye and continued on to Rocket Range.

At Rocket Range we were able to witness Angelina Ngale painting – on country and surrounded by family. For me, it highlighted the artmaking practice employed by many Indigenous Australian artists, which is in stark contrast to the western notion of the artist secluded in their studio, removed from the distractions of the outside world. For Angelina, creative expression occurred while life continued all around her; siblings sharing stories, children playing, dogs wanting to cuddle up close (sometimes too close and stepping on the canvas, which was met with a ferocious yell from all of the ladies). Art and life are inextricably linked.

We also had a chance meeting with nephew of  ‘the batik man’. Batik is traditionally a women's art form in other countries, and is a method of decorating cloth by applying designs in hot wax to the fabric followed by dyes.

In 1978 the women had learned the art of batik as a means to establish a source of income in preparation for the land claim hearing. The 1978 Utopia Batik Art Program was the first art program in Utopia and participants included Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Lena Pwerle and the Petyarre Sisters: Kathleen, Violet, Gloria, Nancy, Myrtle and Ada, as well as one man, Lindsay Bird Mpetyane.

The Utopia batiks soon gained recognition for their distinctive artistic statements, showcasing an intuitive sense of movement, composition and colour.  Art collectors took notice and by 1981 Utopia batiks were exhibited at the Adelaide Art Festival in a major event titled “Floating Forests of Silk:  Utopia Batik from the Desert”. By the late 1980s the artists moved to the painting medium and, as they say, ‘the rest is history’.

The Batik Mans’ family has kept close ties to the people of Utopia, and we found out he was to be the lucky recipient of Angelina's recent creation!

After some time catching up and having a yarn Barbara was itching to get on the road again – still so many more places and people to meet and half the day was already over.

We visited more outstations, including Soapy Bore, Three Bore, and Mosquito Bore. Some of the roads appeared more like walking tracks, but they proved to be valuable shortcuts and a brilliant opportunity to see more of the vibrant red earth and vegetation; soft long grasses, scrubby bushes and areas that were charred black from a recent burn off.  

We then passed through the great Sandover River. While it was dry when we visited I was surprised just how large the river bed was. This is a major feature in the landscape, with large old white gum trees lining the river as far as the eye can see. It made complete sense why the bend in the great Sandover River is a frequent motif and Barbara Weir’s art.

We then continued to what remained of the old Utopia Station. Barbara pointed out old foundations of what once was the old homestead. The metal frame of a shed, a water tower and the old windmill appear to be the only items that have withstood the test of time.

It felt like a place that held a lot of childhood memories and nostalgia for Barbara, but also the place where her life dramatically changed forever.

Being of mixed heritage Barbara was hidden from welfare patrol at a young age by her family, including her Aunty, the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Barbara has fond childhood memories living at Utopia with her large extended family, and in some of her works today she will depict the caves where she would collect water with her coolamon. As we passed through the Sandover River, Barbara also showed us the bushy scrub next to many of the great gum trees that lined the river, which made for good hiding spots as a child.

Her idyllic childhood was disrupted when at the age of ten Barbara was suddenly taken from her family by welfare from Utopia Homestead, as she was collecting water. She is one of the people known as the "stolen generation". Barbara was taken to Alice Springs, but because she kept speaking her Anmatyerre and Alyawarre tongue, was moved further away to children's homes and foster families around Australia, eventually ending up in Darwin. Though she lost contact with her family, she was determined to return to them, never forgetting that 'Atnwengerrp' was the Anmatyerre word for her home.

As Barbara and her children stand on country today, speaking language with an intimate knowledge of culture, country and law – it is true testament to Barbara’s strength and resilience.

As the light started to shift to the soft afternoon sun, we knew we were fast running out of time if we wanted to reach the bitumen before dark. The Sandover Highway put on a spectacular show for us, which made it hard not to pull over for a few more photos – the light perfectly hitting the red earth, the rock formations, and even animal tracks in the sand.

This land is alive and full of features in the landscape - quite different to the story painted by Google Maps when you search this region of Australia (a vast expanse of nothing appears!). While it would be brilliant for Google street view to capture the Sandover Highway – I don’t think their equipment could take the battering of the corrugated road or the dust whipped up on the road. By the end of the day I think all of our bodies were weary from the relentless rattling and shaking of the troopie.

As we turned off the Sandover back on to the highway, we were greeted with large clouds forming in the distance, and shortly after, a spectacular lightning show. We rolled the windows down and soaked in the smell of the rain hitting the hot earth.

We left Alice Springs in the dark hours of the morning, and we got back late in the evening. There was a stillness in the air again, and the streets were glistening from the storm that had passed through earlier in the evening. Our bodies were tired, but for the KOG Crew who had never visited Utopia before, our minds were invigorated by the amazing people and country we had the pleasure and privilege of visiting that day.

I hope this blog has been a glimpse into a day that none of us will forget. Our sincerest thanks to KOG’s Director, Geoff Henderson, for this brilliant opportunity and our most heartfelt gratitude to the incredible Barbara Weir. 

Video: A Day in Utopia with Barbara Weir