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Sold at Auction: Emily Kngwarreye

Alias:Emily Kame KngwarreyeEmily Kame KngwarreyeEmily Kame Kngwarreye


Emily Kame Kngwarreye was born around 1910 at Alhalkere (Soakage Bore). Emily is an Eastern Anmatyerre speaker and one of the senior artists of the Utopia-n Art Movement. She was adopted by Jacob Jones an important lawman in the Anmatyerre community and worked as a stock hand on pastoral properties in this area, showing her forceful independence. At this time women were only employed for domestic duties.

Emily, like many other women at Utopia moved into painting with acrylics during the summer of 1988-89 with 'A summer Project'. Emily moved happily into the new medium from her work in batik on silk as painting allowed her to explore techniques and vision with her artistic expression. Her painting reflects the layered transparency of batik, but her colour is translucent and has been built up through many touches of paint which overlap and meet to create an illusion of depth and movement.

Although her works relate to the modern art tradition, this resemblance is purely visual. The emphasis on Emily's paintings is on the spiritual meaning, based in the tradition of her people. At first she painted aspects of her culture that is sacred, falling foul of the tribal elders. That is when she moved into painting her culture as a whole. Though many Aboriginal paintings are focused on Dreamings, Emily chose to present a very broad picture of the land and how it supports their way of life. These images embrace the whole life story of myth, seeds, flowers, wind, sand and 'everything'.

"Whole lot, that's the whole lot. Awelye (my Dreamings), Alatyeye (pencil yam), Arkerrthe (mountain devil lizard), Ntange (grass seed), Tingu (a Dreamtime pup), Ankerre (emu), Intekwe (a favorite food of emus, a small plant), atnwerle (green bean), and Kame (yam seed). That's what I paint; the whole lot."

The form that these take in her paintings are lively and moving. Colours merge and change form to communicate a strong cosmological message. She has gone from particular subjects to show abstraction of her complete world, moving her beyond her cultural roots.

Emily is one of the most successful artists to come out of Utopia and is arguably amongst the most important Australian painters of the last decade. Emily, in her 80th year was described by the art collector, Michael Hollows, as being one of the most unusual and graphic of all Australia's renowned Aboriginal artists.

Her work is featured in all Australian state galleries and most reputable private collections in Australia, and is seen regularly in exhibitions and collections around the world. A host of solo exhibitions in the 90's has provided Emily with a significant plateau of fame, exceeding that of most Aboriginal artists of her time.

Emily's gift as an artist has touched many people but it was her personal presence that left the greatest impact. The Hollow family had the privilege of knowing Emily on a personal level, being able to watch her paint and talk to her about her own opinions of fame.

On the 2nd of September 1996 Emily passed away, a great loss to the art world and those people who knew her personally or through her paintings.


1992: Australian Artists Creative Fellowship

“When you consider that she never studied art, never came into contact with the great artists of her time and did not begin painting until she was almost 80 years of age, there can only be one way to describe her. She was just a genius.”
– Akira Tatehata –Director, National Museum of Art, Osaka

A portrait of the famous Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Tim Jennings, owner of Mbantua Gallery, first met Emily in the late 1980’s when she was part of a women’s group working in batiks, a few years before she began painting in acrylics. He was close to Emily and members of her extended family right up until her death in 1996 and recalls her being a strong minded woman even though she spoke very little English.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye was a senior custodian for Alhalkere country. She began painting quite late in her life and had first been introduced to silk batik with a group of women from Utopia in 1977. Emily had been working with and exhibiting batik in Australia and abroad between 1977 and 1987 before taking up acrylics on canvas.

Canvas gave Emily and the other artists a greater freedom of expression to experiment with different styles in which to portray their Dreaming stories. Because batik had been the first medium that the artists at Utopia had really experimented with, and it being rather a 'one-hit' medium, they developed quite contrasting styles on canvas and Utopian Art now has probably the most diverse range of styles than any other Aboriginal Art.

A portrait of Emily Kngwarreye with her painting. Emily's trademark style of superimposed bold gestural dotwork, sometimes overlaying linear patterns derived from Ceremonial body paint designs, would have been technically impossible in batik. In this way, Kngwarreye, as an artist, was able to fully express her Country and Dreamings more accurately, as she had been taught.

"Emily’s work has been regularly compared to the New York abstract expressionists Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. A principal distinction the critics make, and it is key to understanding the acclaim surrounding the paintings of the Utopian artist, is that Kngwarreye is better, more profound."- Sydney Morning Herald, 31/5/08

Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s paintings are described by leading international art academics as being equal to the works of Monet, and other great Impressionist and Abstract artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Rothko.

Experts have argued that Earth’s Creation is a more important painting for Australia than Jackson’s Blue Poles, the highly controversial American work that put the National Gallery of Australia onto the world stage in 1973, and remains one of its most celebrated works today.

Earth's Creation Aboriginal Art

Earth’s Creation was painted by a genius Australian, with no formal or even informal training in art. She knew nothing of any other schools of art - she’d never even seen another painting. She had barely 20 or so words in English. She spoke in ancient Australian languages, Anmatyerre and Alyawarr. She painted “everything” in a way that was never done before, and has never been seen since.

“What’s important is that she never would have visited anything like New York, she was a product of a very, very remote community. So there are similarities in style, but her source was entirely different - her work was rooted deeply in her culture and deep in Australia’s desert.” -
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