Born: Alice Springs, NT
LANGUAGE GROUP: Anmatyerre
COMMUNITY: Utopia, NT
With the famous late Minnie Pwerle as grandmother, and the equally talented Barbara Weir for her mother, it is not surprising that Charmaine Pwerle is bursting with artistic talent. She is certainly one of the most promising of the younger generations of Indigenous artists, having been immersed in her culture and its artistic expression from an early age.
Charmaine has been surrounded by artists all her life, including such role models as her mother and grandmother, together with Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Gloria Petyarre. Charmaine's innate artistic sense inevitably blossomed.
Her education straddles two cultures. Until the age of seven, Charmaine lived in the remote community of Utopia, 280kms north east of Alice Springs. Immediately following this, she was sent to the urban environment of Adelaide, in order to 'improve her education'.
At the age of 10 she returned to Utopia School for a further year, before attending St. Phillips College in Alice Springs. Alice Springs high school was next on the agenda, and after this she returned to Utopia for a few years before moving back to Adelaide again to study.
In 1992 Charmaine returned to Utopia and worked for Urapuntja Council as a junior administration assistant, while living with her mother Barbara Weir and grandparents Minnie Pwerle and Motorcar Jim at Soakage Bore - an outstation on what used to be Utopia Station.
During the years she spent at Utopia, Charmaine's education extended to embrace her people's culture, performing in ceremonies, and learning the sacred stories passed on to her by her grandmothers.
Charmaine's early works were impressively executed and rich with culture and expression. She approached the canvas with much more than the usual degree of confidence. Her lines were bold and sure, echoing those of her grandmother Minnie Pwerle, but with the assurance of a much more practiced artist than her years or experience would suggest.
The brushwork in her body designs, Awelye, has all the characteristics of this family dreaming, but Charmaine lends her own distinct creative flair, pattern and movement to the canvas.
In the years that have followed she has developed her obvious talent. She has lived in various locations across Australia with her four daughters, son and large extended family, but has also regularly returned to Utopia to be with family and take part in cultural and ceremonial events.
Charmaine continues to learn the deeper meanings of her Dreaming from her mother, which has resulted in an incredible artistic explosion. Her paintings contain layers of complexity and movement, and are part of the movement by younger artists paving a new path in contemporary Aboriginal Art. One that honours and maintains traditions while innovating.
Charmaine's art is starting to capture the attention of major institutions and art prizes, and her exhibition history both nationally and internationally is growing exponentially. She appears to be following in her mother's footsteps as one of the most sought after artists living and working today.
Copyright Kate Owen Gallery May 2022
Charmaine's main inspirations are the Atnwengerrp area and Awelye (women's ceremonies and body paint).
The women paint each other's breasts and upper bodies with ochre markings, before dancing in a ceremony. The body designs are important and, painted on chest and shoulders, they relate to each particular woman's dreaming. The ochre pigment is ground into powder form and mixed with charcoal and ash before being applied with a flat paddled stick or with fingers in raw linear and curving patterns. The circles in these designs represent the sites and movement where the ceremonies take place.
The lines in the painting depict the tracks that her people made as they trekked across the country in search of food and dry river beds. The large semi-circular shapes represent the sandhills and valleys. The dark colour represents the path of a fire that has swept across the land.
My Grandmother's Country:
Minnie Pwerle, came from a region called Atnwengerrp at Utopia and it is this country that Charmaine depicts in her paintings.