An artist of the Anmatyerre
people, and possibly the greatest painter
has ever produced. She was born about 1910 in Alhalkere
, the country of the Anmatyerre, about 250 km north-east of Alice Springs
. She participated in awelye
, women's ceremonies, which included body-painting
, but it was only in 1977 that she began to produce art
in the form usable by the outside world. Batik
was introduced to the Utopia
community and she was one who began to perform the awelye
in that medium.
In 1988 she began to paint. From then until her death on 2 September 1996, she created a phenomenal profusion of different styles, in earlier work recognizably the dots and swirls that are chararacteristic of traditional Aboriginal art, but rapidly changing, discovering new media, new techniques, vast visions of colour and movement and blocks of space. Although she brought her community wealth from the urban art dealers who queued up for her works, she had little or no knowledge of outside art, and could not have known of the European movements she recapitulated, Fauvism and Expressionism and Pointillism and Minimalism.
Yet all of it was awelye. All of it was an expression of Alhalkerre, her country. Of the few comments she made on her work, one she repeated was
Whole lot, that's whole lot, Awelye, Arlatyeye, Ankerrthe, Ntange, Tingu, Ankerre, Intekwe, Atnwerle, and Kame. That's what I paint, whole lot.
In this she names her Dreaming
s, and the only subjects of her paintings: arlatyeye
the pencil yam
the mountain devil lizard
, ntange grass seed
a plant eaten by emus, atnwerle
the snake vine
or green bean, and kame
With her death the word kame ceased to be used in the Anmatyerre language. On the first anniversary of her death the elders granted permission to outsiders for Emily Kngwarreye to be once more referred to by her full name.
Her earliest works were typically in red, black, ochre, and white, thick brush-end spots over a network of lines. Then by 1990 she was making huge seas of fine stipples in brilliant colours. Her reds were sometimes intense, with gold or white forms shimmering behind them; for me I see galaxies, the background of a Klimt in extreme magnification, or a city at night from high above.
By 1991 she was making softer marks, filling the canvas pointillistically still, but with shades of yellow, gold, and pink near each other and merging, or with tiny stipples inside each of the small spots. Then she moved to white on dark earth.
In 1992 blue entered, and she experimented with contrasting irregular skeins of colour, rivers and sharp clouds of colour pushing through one another. Later that year she worked with intense pinks, then the colours became more sombre. They lightened out again in 1993 as she mixed in more white. The paintings were often gigantic. She would sit on the ground working from one edge of the canvas in then move round. There was no definite orientation to her works.
Suddenly in 1994 she turned to simple lines, single brushstrokes that went right down, repeated in endless hypnotic variations. Then the bright colours and jazzy movement flooded into these and by 1995 they were light, full of intense white and pink, and scrambling crazily to get away from the unidirectional lines. They fused into a wash of colour.
Later in 1995 she abruptly shifted to black and white, involved webs and tracks, including the enormous (3 m x 8 m) Big Yam Dreaming. Then bright coloured webs and tracks on black -- stripes now, colours, black and white, swirling, flurry -- then dots. Individually some of these might be taken for Bridget Riley, Frank Auerbach, Willem de Kooning, but no other artist had such a range.
Her final style in 1996 was luminous washes of near-white, or blocks of very few colours, dominated by white. All of them awelye.