The world seems a little less bright after learning of the passing of the incomparable Ms G.Petyarre on 8 June 2021. She was one of Australia’s most successful and significant female artists and this news is a great loss to the art world and those people who knew her personally or through her paintings.
So how did a woman raised in a remote part of the Eastern Desert and instructed in Anmatyerre law and traditions capture the hearts of art lovers around the world? Petyarre participated in the first art programs organized at Utopia in 1977.
The batik-making workshops marked the emergence of Aboriginal women artists, and from the outset Petyarre’s richly colourful works were informed by the natural shapes and patterns of local leaves, flowers, seeds and grasses. They reflected the daily interaction of desert women with their environment.
When acrylic paints and canvas were introduced in the 1980’s her talent was immediately apparent. Working alongside Emily Kame Kngwarreye and inspired by the older woman’s groundbreaking success and brave, expressive abstraction, Gloria excitedly began to experiment and freely. She tapped into her own experiences to produce a confident and distinctive style.
In 1999, Petyarre burst onto the Australian art scene in a big way when she won the prestigious Wynne Prize for Landscape. She was the first Indigenous Australian to win a major non-Indigenous art prize, cementing her name in art history.
Gloria continued to become a worldwide success with her unique subject matter and remarkable ability to depict her ancient dreaming stories in a highly contemporary and expressive manner. Her depiction of the Kurrajong bush medicine leaves—with her layered, free-flowing, swirling brushstrokes that scatter across the canvas—became her iconic motif.
An artist of great versatility, Petyarre experimented with her iconic subject matter, producing what is known as her ‘Big Leaf’ paintings, as well as her Thorny Mountain Devil Lizard, Yam and Grass Seed Dreaming.
To watch Petyarre paint was a pleasure and a priveldge. Her tangible excitement resulted in artworks that are pulsating with life. She could be heard singing the old songs; Awelye, little lizard. Her brush seemed to move to the rhythm of her songs.
Patyarre was selected as a Wynne Prize finalist four more times, and her work was featured numerous times in the “Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Art Award”. She has travelled internationally with her work to Europe, America and Asia. She is held in major collections both nationally and internationally.
Her list of artistic achievements is immense and her gift as an artist has touched many people - but it was her personal presence that left the greatest impact. She took great pleasure in travelling with her art to many countries, participating in significant exhibitions and projects. The delight she took in meeting new people, unreservedly sharing the stories and songs of her Country are some of our most cherished memories of her.
Whilst we are feeling the loss of our dear friend, our hearts are also aching for Ms Petyarre’s large extended family (many of whom we also represent at the gallery) who are experiencing immeasurable grief..
She was a woman of immesurable generosity. Her beauty truly radiated from the inside out and manifested itself in her stunning artworks that are cherished by people around the world.
During this sad time, it does give us comfort to know that her beautiful spirit will continue to radiate through her canvases.
Travel safely home to Anmatyerre Country. You will be dearly missed.