Looking at Art - November

<strong>Whiskey Tjukangku</strong><br/>Born c.1939, Anangu-Pitjantjatjara-Yankunytjatjara Lands, SA <br/>Language: Yankunytjatjara <br/><br/><i>Punu Trees</i> 2011<br/>Acrylic on linen, 153 x 153cm<br/>Charles Darwin University Art Collection – CDU2073<br/>Acquired through the CDU Foundation, 2011<br/>Image © the artist & courtesy Iwantja Arts and Crafts, Indulkana, SA

Whiskey Tjukangku

Whiskey Tjukangku resides at Iwantja Community (Indulkana), one of the largest communities at the “gateway” to Anangu-Pitjantjatjara-Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, south-east of Fregon and Mimili and approximately 8 kilometres west of the Stuart Highway in South Australia.

The beginnings of an Aboriginal owned, community-based art centre at Iwantja can be traced to the establishment of the Indulkana Arts Association in the 1970s, when art classes for secondary students were delivered.

The first art works in an introduced European medium to evolve from Iwantja Arts were one-colour (monochrome) linocut prints, developed in 1952 under the tutelage of Rod Foster.

The technique was readily embraced by artists already familiar with carving, incising and decorating wooden objects for ceremony and utilitarian purposes. Multi-coloured prints were later produced by artists in association with Studio One in Canberra.

Today, Iwantja Arts and Crafts is known for its extended range of limited edition prints created on site, with printmaking techniques encompassing woodblocks, collographs, etchings and monotypes. Artists also produce acrylic paintings on linen, jewellery and woodwork items.

Senior Yankunytjatjara elder and traditional healer Whiskey Tjukangku was one of the first “art men” of Indulkana, and a founding member of Iwantja Arts and Crafts.

In his words: “I was the first man to start being an artist at Iwantja, so I was the original member … I paint a lot and I learned linocuts at Iwantja. I remember culture designs that no one else knows”.

Tjukangku grew up in both Ernabella and De Rose Hill (SA), working as a stockman for many years droving cattle throughout the region, until he grew “homesick” for his ngura (country), returning to reside again at Indulkana. His paintings reflect on his extensive travels and experiences throughout desert country often unrelated to his Tjukurrpa (Dreaming), yet recalled in his memory and art as influential to his sense of self and identity as a senior Yankunytjatjara man.

Punu Trees 2011 is a masterful and energetic interpretation of the artist’s principal motif: the punu, sourced for the production of carved and incised weapons and utensils by Yankunytjatjara men, in particular shields used in ceremony.

An organic composition of etched tree branches, foliage and plant life is traced within a challenging rectangular format within the picture plane: irregular and asymmetrical within fixed proportions. The artist has not fallen prey to the tendency to “over-fill” or over-stylise abstract or semi-abstract motifs on a large scale. The arching, meandering punu trunks and jagged branches create a maze-like or lattice effect reminiscent of the early paintings of Pintupi artists Timmy Payungka (Kintore) and the biomorphic imagery of Mitjili and Marlee Napurrula (Haasts Bluff).

There is also a sense of whimsy in Tjukangku’s work.

The inclusion of a “hidden” figurative element in the lower left hand section of the painting (a kalaya – emu), poses a visual challenge: the viewer becomes the hunter, seeking out quarry taking refuge within the trailing mass of tree limbs.

In Tjukangku’s words: “The tall straight trees are alive and the bent ones are the broken ones on the ground. The emu is running away from Aboriginal men and hiding in the trees. Sometimes he runs away and never comes back.”

To date, this arresting rendition of Punu Trees is one of the largest and most ambitious in size and scale produced by the artist, evincing the strong aesthetic relationship in his oeuvre between intaglio printmaking, carving and incising three-dimensional wooden objects, and painting.

Whiskey Tjukangku held his first solo exhibition at Raft Artspace, Alice Springs in April-May this year and has participated in group shows at major galleries interstate since 2010.

His recent work has been acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria and examples of his earliest prints are held in the South Australian Museum.

Anita Angel, Curator CDU Art Collection & Art Gallery

4 November 2011

CDU Art Collection and Art Gallery


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