Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu by Guy Maestri in the 2009 Archibald Prize
Posted by Jeremy Eccles | 06.03.09
Gallery: Art Gallery of NSW
Dates: 06.03.09 : 24.05.09
Location: The Domain, Sydney
The important annual Wynne Prize for landscape painting – handed out today at noon by the Art Gallery of New South Wales Trustees – is getting more and more indigenous. This year 7 of the 30 acceptances are by Aboriginal artists – and a couple more show that important elements of indigenous painting are creeping into the white art vocabulary when it comes to capturing country in Australia.
The 7 indigenous artists selected are Joanne Currie Nalingu, Adam Hill, Gladdy Kemare, Ningura Napurrula, Gloria Petyarre, Patrick Tjungarryi and Regina Pilawuk Wilson. Many are classic works by these great artists – Gloria Petyarre has come up with a version of her trademark leaves in a boggling blue, Regina Wilson has daringly split her fish-net canvas between colour and black & white, and Patrick Tjungarryi is challenging with his use of orange. But the outstanding work, on a first reading, is the Joanne Currie Nalingu work, 'Dark Waters (Maranoa)'– some great textures on canvas and minimal use of colours.
And Nalingu was indeed short-listed for the prize - which went to Lionel Bawden for an odd sculpture.
But most intriguing of the Wynne Prize entries is last year's Archibald Prize winner (for her self-portrait) – Del Kathryn Barton. I observed then that her dotted background seemed to be paying tribute to desert painting. This year her landscape – 'Flatrock' – with no figures to distract from the gorgeous background, has even more of the feel of a Pitjanjatjara desert painting - with swirls, leaps and concentric circles of colour against a grey dotted background.
Meanwhile, Frank Thirion's huge canvas – 'Southern Stars' – could almost be the Kimberley night sky captured by a Warmun artist.
In the Archibald – the Prize that gets all the publicity – as I predicted, the multi-award winning singer, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu achieved yet more exposure in a very effective portrait by Guy Maestri (see image) which won the Big One for a dark image that really captures the beautiful mystery behind the singer's blind/blank face. Gurrumul wasn't there for the announcement, but sent a wry message reminding everyone that he personally hadn't won the money ($50,000), so don't call him up and humbug him!
Not 'in the picture' this year were Jan Williamson's image of Utopian artist, Nancy Kunoth Petyarr or the legendary Michael Nelson Jagamara, who contributed his own traditional imagery to a portrait of himself by David Paulson.
All this cross-fertilisation is the fascinating subject of one of the shows that opened the new National Portrait Gallery in Canberra – 'Open Air'. While many of the subjects of the show (just closed) and the catalogue are classic Nolan and Boyd images of people in the landscape – not mention James Gleeson's famous 'Portrait of the artist as an evolving landscape', Director/curator Andrew Sayers also uses the opportunity to include a serious proportion of indigenous art – ranging from Tiwi Pukumani poles – traditionally intended to represent the identity of the dead person – to Ricky Maynard's 'Broken Heart' photo of the back of a Palawa man looking over the sea from exile to his Tasmanian homeland.
Sayers is clearly intending a permanent erasure of the line that he believes Nolan crossed many years ago, sensing that “landscape is defined by the stories that happened in it” and the people (Kelly, Burke and Wills, Mrs Fraser, etc) who made those stories. He sees many of the paintings by Yirrkala's celebrated Marika family as linking their personal lives to the fundamental creative acts of the legendary Djan'Kawa. And the Director's key work is the Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri painting from Papunya in 1978, 'Father/Son/Grandfather Dreaming', which he reads as “an ancestral loyalty story with the same deeply embedded meaning as Van Dyke's portrait of the Earl of Arundel with the Earl Marshall's staff he'll pass on to his grandson”.
Michael Nelson Jagamara and Singing Rain Story by David Paulson and Michael Nelson Jagamara
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