Emily Kame Kngwarreye
(1910 – 3 September 1996) was an Australian Aboriginal artist from the Utopia community in the Northern Territory
The Northern Territory is a federal territory of Australia, occupying much of the centre of the mainland continent, as well as the central northern regions...
. She is one of the most prominent and successful artists in the history of contemporary Indigenous Australian art
Contemporary Indigenous Australian art is the modern art work produced by Indigenous Australians. It is generally regarded as beginning with a painting movement that started at Papunya, northwest of Alice Springs, Northern Territory in 1971, involving artists such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri...
Born in 1910, Kngwarreye did not take up painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...
seriously until she was nearly 80. She lived in the Anmatyerre
Anmatyerr, are an Indigenous Australian people, or language group, from the Northern Territory. They are from an area near Arnka , Arwerlt Atwaty Anmatyerr, are an Indigenous Australian people, or language group, from the Northern Territory. They are from an area near Arnka (Mount Leichhardt),...
language group at Alhalkere in the Utopia community, about 250 km north east of Alice Springs. Emily had one brother and one sister, and no children of her own. Her brother's children are Gloria Pitjana Mills and Dolly Pitjana Mills.
Emily's initial artistic training was as a traditional Indigenous woman, preparing and using designs for women's ceremonies. Her training in western techniques began, along with that of the rest of the Utopia community, with batik
Batik is a cloth that traditionally uses a manual wax-resist dyeing technique. Batik or fabrics with the traditional batik patterns are found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, China, Azerbaijan, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, and Singapore.Javanese traditional batik, especially from...
. Her first batik cloth works were created in 1980. Later she moved from batik to painting on canvas:
I did batik at first, and then after doing that I learned more and more and then I changed over to painting for good...Then it was canvas. I gave up on...fabric to avoid all the boiling to get the wax out. I got a bit lazy - I gave it up because it was too much hard work. I finally got sick of it...I didn't want to continue with the hard work batik required - boiling the fabric over and over, lighting fires, and using up all the soap powder, over and over. That's why I gave up batik and changed over to canvas - it was easier. My eyesight deteriorated as I got older, and because of that I gave up batik on silk - it was better for me to just paint.
Acrylic paint is fast drying paint containing pigment suspension in acrylic polymer emulsion. Acrylic paints can be diluted with water, but become water-resistant when dry...
ings were introduced to Utopia in 1988-89 by Rodney Gooch and others of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA). An exhibition of some of the paintings of these artists' work organised by CAAMA was held called "A Summer Project", where Kngwarreye's work got immediate attention from critics. The attention she received coincided with the worldwide art boom that occurred at this time.
Whereas the predominant Aboriginal style was based on the one developed with some assistance from art teacher Geoffrey Bardon
Geoffrey Robert Bardon AM 1940, Sydney – 6 May 2003) was an Australian school teacher who was instrumental in creating the Aboriginal art of the Western Desert movement, and in bringing Australian indigenous art to the attention of the world....
at the Papunya community in 1971 of many similarly sized dots carefully lying next to each other in distinct patterns, Kngwarreye created her own original artistic style. This first style, in her paintings between 1989 and 1991, had many dots, sometimes lying on top of each other, of varying sizes and colours, as seen in Wild Potato Dreaming
Initially Emily painted exclusively for CAAMA and The Holt Family at near by Delmore Downs Station; she did about half her work for each.
These original paintings of different styles quickly went for high prices at auction
An auction is a process of buying and selling goods or services by offering them up for bid, taking bids, and then selling the item to the highest bidder...
, with a turnover
In business, revenue is income that a company receives from its normal business activities, usually from the sale of goods and services to customers. In many countries, such as the United Kingdom, revenue is referred to as turnover....
for the Utopia group of painters of more than $1 million in 1989-90.
Kngwarreye went through many different individual styles in her short career as a professional painter. In 1992, she began to join the dots into lines with parallel horizontal and vertical stripes, representing rivers and terrain
Terrain, or land relief, is the vertical and horizontal dimension of land surface. When relief is described underwater, the term bathymetry is used...
, in many different colours. She began using larger brushes than previously. Her later paintings were based on much larger dots than the finer, more intricate work which she did when she started.
In 1993 she began painting patches of colour along with many dots, which were like rings that were clear in the middle as seen in Alaqura Profusion
(1993). This was made with a shaving brush that was called her 'dump dump' style, which used very bright colours. The same style of rings of colour are also seen in My Mothers Country
and Emu Country
In 1995 she ended what critics called her 'colourist
Colourist painting is characterised by the use of intense colour, which becomes the dominant feature of the resultant work of art, more important than its other qualities. This tendency in painting was foreshadowed by French Impressionism in the late 19th century, and came to prominence in the work...
' phase and began painting with plain stripes that crossed the canvas. The originally thick stripes often represented the lines of yam
Yam is the common name for some species in the genus Dioscorea . These are perennial herbaceous vines cultivated for the consumption of their starchy tubers in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania...
tracks, as in Yam Dreaming
(1994) and Bush Yam
(1995). She expressed the strange growth patterns of the yam, a plant which was critical for human survival in the desert, but was very difficult to find.
Later in 1995 her paintings started to resemble in some ways the American Abstract Expressionist paintings of Jackson Pollock
Paul Jackson Pollock , known as Jackson Pollock, was an influential American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. During his lifetime, Pollock enjoyed considerable fame and notoriety. He was regarded as a mostly reclusive artist. He had a volatile personality, and...
, with many thinner lines that criss-crossed the canvas. Her main theme continued to be yams, as in Yam Dreaming Awelye
(1995) and also in black-and-white Yam Dreaming paintings. Several weeks before her death, Kngwarreye painted many canvases over a 3-day period in 1996, using a very thick brush, as in Body Paint
Kngwarreye particularly featured yam tracks in her works. The yam plant was an important source of food
Food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for the body. It is usually of plant or animal origin, and contains essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals...
for the Aboriginal people of the desert. She painted many works on this theme; often her first actions at the start of a painting were to put down the yam tracking lines. This plant was especially significant for her: her middle name Kame
means the yellow flower
A flower, sometimes known as a bloom or blossom, is the reproductive structure found in flowering plants . The biological function of a flower is to effect reproduction, usually by providing a mechanism for the union of sperm with eggs...
of the yam that grows above the ground. She described her paintings as having meaning based on all the aspects of the community's life, including the yam plants. In one of her few well-known statements about her work, she said her paintings mean: Whole lot, that's all, whole lot, awelye, arlatyeye, ankerrthe, ntange, dingo, ankerre, intekwe, anthwerle and kame. That's what I paint: whole lot.
The Dreaming is a common term within the animist creation narrative of indigenous Australians for a personal, or group, creation and for what may be understood as the "timeless time" of formative creation and perpetual creating....
, pencil yam, mountain devil lizard
Lizards are a widespread group of squamate reptiles, with nearly 3800 species, ranging across all continents except Antarctica as well as most oceanic island chains...
Grasses, or more technically graminoids, are monocotyledonous, usually herbaceous plants with narrow leaves growing from the base. They include the "true grasses", of the Poaceae family, as well as the sedges and the rushes . The true grasses include cereals, bamboo and the grasses of lawns ...
The Australian Dingo or Warrigal is a free-roaming wild dog unique to the continent of Australia, mainly found in the outback. Its original ancestors are thought to have arrived with humans from southeast Asia thousands of years ago, when dogs were still relatively undomesticated and closer to...
The Emu Dromaius novaehollandiae) is the largest bird native to Australia and the only extant member of the genus Dromaius. It is the second-largest extant bird in the world by height, after its ratite relative, the ostrich. There are three subspecies of Emus in Australia...
, small plant emu food, green bean
Bean is a common name for large plant seeds of several genera of the family Fabaceae used for human food or animal feed....
and yam seed")
The success and demand for Kngwarreye's paintings caused her many problems within the community as she tried to maintain her individual identity
Identity is a term used to describe a person's conception and expression of their individuality or group affiliations . The term is used more specifically in psychology and sociology, and is given a great deal of attention in social psychology...
. The myth of the woman in her 80s who had never been outside the central desert becoming a great painter was one reason for her popularity. She had in fact, been to Perth
Perth is the capital and largest city of the Australian state of Western Australia and the fourth most populous city in Australia. The Perth metropolitan area has an estimated population of almost 1,700,000....
Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia and the fifth-largest city in Australia. Adelaide has an estimated population of more than 1.2 million...
, Sydney and Canberra
Canberra is the capital city of Australia. With a population of over 345,000, it is Australia's largest inland city and the eighth-largest city overall. The city is located at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory , south-west of Sydney, and north-east of Melbourne...
, though this was only after she had become famous. There was much pressure from the white community for her to paint in a certain way, when they believed that one of her styles was more successful than others.
Eight paintings by Emily Kngwarreye in the Sotheby's winter auction of 2000 put together were sold for $507,550, with Awelye
(1989) selling for $156,500. Also in 2000, Emily's work was amongst that of eight individual and collaborative groups of Indigenous Australian artists shown in the prestigious Nicholas Hall
The Neva Enfilade of the Winter Palace, St Petersburg is a series of three large halls arranged in an enfilade along the palace's massive facade facing the River Neva....
at the Hermitage Museum
The State Hermitage is a museum of art and culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia. One of the largest and oldest museums of the world, it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been opened to the public since 1852. Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display,...
in Russia. The exhibition received a positive reception from Russian critics, one of whom wrote:
This is an exhibition of contemporary art, not in the sense that it was done recently, but in that it is cased in the mentality, technology and philosophy of radical art of the most recent times. No one, other than the Aborigines of Australia, has succeeded in exhibiting such art at the Hermitage.
On 23 May 2007 her 1994 painting Earth's Creation
-The Artist & Painting:Emily Kame Kngwarreye painted Earth's Creation in 1994 at Utopia, north east of Alice Springs.She was a senior Anmatyerre woman, who only commenced painting when she was aged about 80...
was purchased by Tim Jennings of Mbantua Gallery & Cultural Museum for A$
The Australian dollar is the currency of the Commonwealth of Australia, including Christmas Island, Cocos Islands, and Norfolk Island, as well as the independent Pacific Island states of Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu...
1,056,000 at a Deutscher-Menzies' Sydney auction, setting a new record an Aboriginal artwork.
With success came unwanted attention. Many other inexperienced art dealers would go to her community to try to get a piece of the action, Kngwarreye once describing to a friend how she had "escaped from five or six carloads of 'wannabe' art dealers at Utopia".
According to Sotheby's Tim Klingender, Emily was "an example of an Aboriginal artist who was relentlessly pursued by carpetbaggers towards the end of her career and produced a large but inconsistent body of work."
- Coventry, Sydney, 1990
- Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne, 1990, 91, 92
- Hogarth Gallery, Sydney, 1991
- Gallery Savah, Sydney, 1994, 1996, 1997.
- Mbantua Gallery and Cultural Museum, 2007–08
- The National Art Center, Tokyo, 2008
- National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 2008
- 1990: "Contemporary Aboriginal Art", Carpenter Centre for the Visual Arts, Harvard Uni. Massachusetts, USA
- 1992: "Aboriginal Paintings from the Desert", touring Russia; "Crossroads, Towards a New Reality, Aboriginal Art from Australia", National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto and Tokyo
- 1993: "Aratjara – Australian Aboriginal Art", touring Germany, London (Haywood Gallery) and Denmark (Louisiana regional gallery)
- 1994: National Gallery of Victoria.
- 2010: 'Emily Kame Kngwarreye & Minnie Pwerle', Kate Owen Aboriginal Art Gallery, Sydney, Australia.