The 2001 winner of the ‘Big Telstra’ by Dorothy Napangardi ‘Salt on Mina Mina’, 2.5 meters wide, and now in the Telstra collection by MAGNT
posted by Jeremy Eccles | 07/30/20
What a year for women! Major exhibitions are currently underway (with serious catalogs) for Mavis Ngallametta (QAG), Nyapanyapa Yunupingu (MAGNT) and Destiny Deacon (NGV); earlier this year, Emily Kngwarreye achieved significant sales in Sydney and New York thanks to American recognition that she was “one of the 20 most influential artists of 2019”; and now Emily and the late Dorothy Napangardi are being hailed in new monographs.
But how different these assessments can be. One is a commercial effort attached to the sale of exhibitions in Belgium, Perth and Alice Springs; but it’s mostly written by the dealer who had a 26-year association with the artist, which was clearly more than just making money. The other is in a commercial series of ‘Mini monographs‘whose other Australian artists are a strange mix of women – Polixeni Papapetrou, Del Kathryn Barton and Nell – with a sort of Imprimatur from Tate Modern, who bought some of her works for the first time this year.
Sadly, despite a brief but stimulating essay by eminent Irish novelist Colm Toibin – who admits that he only sees the work “with an Irish eye” – the Emily kame kngwarreye Thames & Hudson’s libretto is a dud. From its cover there are 79 works of art by the woman her first and foremost dealer, Christopher Hodges, hails as “Australia’s most important international artist today”, but in my eyes possibly closed, only four are among his greatest works. And eleven could be classified as disappointing!
How the hell were they selected, given Hodges’ involvement – perhaps only as an even shorter essayist than Toibin? Editor and “art leader” Natalie King – curator of two exhibitions at the Venice Biennale – does not say so. I hope they don’t define, as the book suggests, “(Emily’s) career”. And they’re presented in such a random order that there doesn’t seem to be any attempt to chronology or reveal aspects of Toibin’s interesting essay. For example, scattered around eight works from the controversial period that Kngwarreye’s most experienced curator, Margo Neale, defined as her “high colourist” phase – which I confess I never enjoyed. But none are part of the selection that Neale made for exhibitions in Brisbane, Japan and Canberra. Neither have there been since her first breakthrough period on canvas when her sacred yam (Kame) roots began to fade under her miraculous spots. A surprising number of this “career defining” collection are works on paper. And none come from its last bloom in what the Japanese have recognized as its Zen mode.
Despite this, Colm Toibin makes a literary play – as you might expect – on writer Edward Said’s recognition of the “late style – of many artists – as a time when all has been said and a new abandonment emerges. “. He quotes Yeats and Beethoven. I remembered Sir Kenneth Clark’s 2006 essay “On Aging” which Vanessa Merlino noted in D’Lan Davidson’s New York catalog earlier this year, in which he questioned “increased vitality. of an aged hand (which) is difficult to explain. Does this mean that a long assimilation of life has filled the painter so much with a feeling of natural energy that it was communicated involuntarily by (his) touch? There is nothing more mysterious than the power of an elderly artist to bring a stain or a scribble to life ”!
Toibin’s comparable point of view on Emily’s 1996 ending is “the buzz and uproar of a beginning artist plus the grim and belated knowledge she must, since time is short, risking everything to get it right. things”. Characteristically, Toibin has always been either balanced or reluctant to engage; I was never quite sure: identifying “a kind of savagery” and “a kind of fearlessness”; “fully alive brushstrokes, bright, fresh marks” counterbalanced by “a painter of what lies beneath” that “the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins called ‘inscape'”. He also used his traveling Irish eye to spot a connection to the colonization of Ireland by the British.
I doubt our Emily was that political! But she certainly looked around and captured on canvas “a fully known landscape”.
Dorothy Napangardi also knew her landscapes from front to back – especially the salt flats of Mina Mina from a childhood before the settlers took her family against her will to the Warlpiri settlement of Yuendumu. And artist Kathleen Petyarre (in the MCA catalog of Napangardi’s 2002 solo show there) recognizes parallels with Kngwarrey. Speaking of a 1999 Karntakurlangu Jukurrpa / dream of women work, she commented, “It reminds me of Aunt Emily’s work, the way she posed it Yam / Kame Dreaming – same idea. Not the same Dream. Not the same brushstrokes (either). Dorothy’s painting always reminds me of dancing women, really in training, dancing for the ceremony ”.
And that’s not the only fortuitous bond between the two women. Oddly, retired Melbourne dealer Hank Ebes hooks them up. Ebes claims to have dealt with 650 Emilys during his career and still had 243 when he created his ‘Emily Museum‘in the suburb of Melbourne in 2013. Does it still exist – not the website? But it also fits into the Napangardi monograph, making its way on an all-female “Return to Mina Mina” journey in 1999 when her aunts passed important women’s affairs to Dorothy. The dealer and author of the monograph Roslyn Prémont was furious at the intrusion. But she admits that the experience of flying in the Ebes Desert helped the group’s navigation.
While Emily Kngwarreye experienced distinct painting periods that seemed to change with each passing year, Dorothy Napangardi will remain in many minds as a masterpiece against a black background covered in energetic lines of white dots – the dance Petyarre saw . In fact, she had three periods – a subtly colored early flowering describing the food sources of plum and banana; that middle period of Mina Mina in black and white where its vertical lines represented the digging sticks of women, the great desert oaks of which they could be made, as well as the dancing of slender young women; and a late return to a subdued color after her father shared his country with her in 2006, including hers “Bilby dreams” design site.
Academic Christine Nicholls enriches the story and commentary of many of the book’s more than 90 paintings with some Toibinesque ideas. Being a Warlpiri speaker herself, she has a bit more context than him. Despite this, she observes “a Proustian struggle (at Dorothy’s) to reconnect with an elusive past”. Given the gift of a studio in Alice Springs offered by the Gondwana Gallery in Prémont for pretty much personal use, I doubt the struggle was so powerful. However, being in Alice Springs there were sometimes temptations to wander away. Perhaps this is the price distant artists pay for their agency by choosing a private dealer over a community art center.
Certainly the many monograph photos of an ecstatic smiling artist and the fact that Dorothy won both the NATSIAA Best Painting Award and the Big Telstra Award suggests that both sides of the deal – creator and spectators – were more than comfortable.
And Nicholls’ idea that a childhood “under a vast desert sky” had enabled the artist “not to be constrained by specific directions of vision,” which meant that the “op-art quality (of the work) arose out of the continual repositioning of the self as actor / spectator / spectator. Without a single focus, the viewer must move their eyes up, down and through their works in order to engage. A simulacrum of movement ”. Dancing on canvas – as Petyarre observed.
More controversially, Nicholls views the creation of the monumental canvases necessary to “do justice to his country by a bush artist” as “ultimately a learned skill.” I wonder who did the teaching? This may have happened in the print she did with white professionals like Basil Hall. Because it has a completeness that is rarely achieved, even by the greatest “artists of the bush”. Hall identified in Dorothy the same discipline that has achieved such variety in her paintings, and “her ability to imagine everything upside down stems from her preoccupation with space.”
One can also identify a sense of the microscopic in his work that developed from his acute view developed in tracking food resources in the desert. Unfortunately, it was on a hunting trip in an overloaded troop that turned upside down when Dorothy Napangardi’s life came to an untimely end in 2013. Ros Prémont’s grief is palpable. And this combination of staff and academics makes this monograph a beautiful tribute to a fine artist.
Last coincidence. About the only place where Dorothy Napangardi’s monograph is currently for sale is at Artspace. ‘by 11 lijnen‘in Oudenburg, Belgium. Their show is called ‘A window on the macrocosm‘and stars Dorothy and Emily! Also sisters Petyarre Kathleen and Gloria. Their art apparently offers a solution to the problems of our time because: “Australian Aboriginal culture is arguably the most successful and certainly the oldest civilization in human history. It is complex, focused on sustaining life in the most hostile environments, and a source of deep practical, spiritual and cultural knowledge. Aboriginal art not only reflects the earliest period of this ancient culture, but is also of great artistic and anthropological merit. These are just a few of the reasons for its unique and continuing importance. Pointillist constellations, hypnotic concentric circles and sinuous lines conceal the sacred motifs traced by ancestors in the sand and on human bodies ”.
The Japingka Gallery in Perth has a tribute exhibition – modestly described as “a unique exhibition never to be repeated” – which is due to open on September 18 and run for 6 weeks. Lucky Perth. The Gondwana gallery in Alice has a Napangardis showroom, open by appointment.
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Gallery: Japingka Gallery
Contact: Ian plunkett
Telephone: +61 8 9335 8265
Address: 47 High Street Fremantle Fremantle 6160 WA
The cover of Emily Thames & Hudson’s monograph showing the ‘colorist’ work ‘Untitled / Alhalkere’ (1993)
Early Napangardi – his 1997 work, ‘Yuparli / Bush Banana’ (part), which was shown in his MCA exhibition and is on display at the Japingka Gallery