Indigenous australian art
spaces are not rectangular or enclosed and interconnect at oblique angles. Each of the four spaces is a different shape and size, and is resolved around a central filament in the shape of the number eight. The architect Hans Hollein describes such a system or scheme as ‘spaces of a different magnitude with which the work of art enters into a dialogue – in reciprocal intensification’.6 Within these permanent spaces, which acknowledge the power, primacy and diversity of Indigenous art and culture, the NGV looks in depth at
1 A Bush Tucker Story, 1972
Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula (b. 1925) Synthetic polymer paint on composition board, 91.4366.2cm National Gallery of Victoria,
Melbourne 2 Dreamtime Story of the Willy
Willy, 1989 Rover Thomas (c. 1926–98) Earth pigments and natural binder on canvas, 160.13200.1cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 3 Kunawarritji (Well 33), 2009
ora Wompi (b. c. 1935) Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 294.33125.2cm (left), 3003125cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 4 Anwerlarr Anganenty (Big Yam
Dreaming), 1995 Emily Kam Kngwarray (c. 1910–96) Synthetic polymer paint on cavas, 291.13801.8cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne avant-gardism, unfamiliar trajectories and defining moments in the history of Indigenous art. The aim is to fabricate contexts in which works can fully resonate with power and meaning, rather than to display individual paintings as discrete entities disembodied from their appropriate cultural references.
A number of works in the collection are seminal and warrant particular consideration. Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula’s A Bush Tucker Story (1972; Fig. 1) is both an intimate and erudite communication, and an ethereal celebration of the generative power of the Water Dreaming. It could be argued that the luminescent veils of dots, fragility and ground-breaking tonality find their analogue in the pointillist works of Seurat. Initially used sparingly to provide edging, graphic augmentation or texture, and subsequently extended into phases of dots and expansive colour fields, the dot is integral to the visual language of Western Desert painting. The artist pioneered the over-layering of masses of filigree dots to create atmospheric effects of light and shade, and tremulous, feminine optical qualities. Warangkula was in his late forties when he painted A Bush Tucker Story, so such mastery over process and mature virtuosity could be anticipated – even considered unremarkable – for a gifted artist at this age; yet the formidable reality was that Warangkula had been practising his art for less than 18 months when he completed this work.
Warangkula was among the first of the Papunya founding artists to forge a poetic form of painting that performed on an aesthetic plane, free of literal correspondence with sacred objects or designs used in ritual. In painting kapi (water, rain), celebrated and symbolised in multiple markings and dots laden with white, Warangkula and other Western Desert artists summon the horizon into the picture plane, characteristically rendered as signs for clouds, lightning, rain, rainbows, hail or atmospheric disturbance. Thus the artist is painting the land where his spirit is embedded, as if inside it, condensing subterranean and celestial elements on a twodimensional plane that is a portrayal of the self.
It is tempting to be pious about Rover Thomas’ Dreamtime Story of the Willy Willy (1989; Fig. 2), which condenses complex mythological and topographical information to soft-edged austerity and near abstraction. A hellocoidal red-dust storm, or willy willy, ushers in the dull white surface of the land and rises into the sky, spreading out audaciously with a serpentine whoosh from right to left. The finely textured ground of creamy white kaolin, uncluttered by subsidiary patterning, symbolises the country july/august 2011 apollo 39