Looking at Art - May

<strong>Wintjiya Napaltjarri</strong><br/> (b.c.1930, Pintupi)<br/><br/><i>Untitled [Designs associated with the soakage site of Watanuma, northwest of Kintore community]</i> 2011,<br/> Acrylic on linen, 87 x 28cm.<br/>CDU Art Collection - CDU2316 <br/>Image © the artist & courtesy Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd, Alice Springs & Paul Johnstone Gallery, Darwin.

Wintjiya Napaltjarri

Wintjiya Napaltjarri was born at Malparingya, north-west of Kintore in the Northern Territory. She is a senior Pintupi artist who was introduced to painting on canvas in 1994-95 during the Haasts Bluff/Kintore Women’s Painting Project. The following year, she and a number of other Pintupi women began to paint for Papunya Tula Artists.

By the late 1990s, the artist had developed a compact but expressive signature graphic style derived from women’s ritual body painting, where bold, gestural designs in thick, textured paint were laid out on a stark monochrome background.

An enduring inspiration for Napaltjarri’s work is the Western Desert soakage site of Watanuma (Flying Ant), closely associated with tjukurrpa ancestral events, journeys and related women’s ceremonies. In this work, women’s body paint designs are transformed into elliptical symbols, referencing both physical and spiritual connections to country. In compositional terms, this painting carries its encoded message with stark simplicity – by emblematic suggestion rather than mimetic illustration of topographical features or actualised narrative events.

Two elongated motifs on the painting’s right, poised above a shallow mound, may suggest women’s digging sticks, but as pictorial elements they define a powerful vertical “reading” of the work as a painting. Defying the need for a central focal point, three other asymmetrical motifs float along the painting’s left edge, as visually provocative as they are elusive.

Rendered in an uncommon, gentle palette of soft flesh pink on a white stippled ground, the sparse composition evokes desert petroglyphs and pecked rock art designs seen in desert caves and shelters in Pintupi country. Napaltjarri’s painting is not a “land map” of country, but its essence reduced to immutable forms.

Anita Angel
Curator, Charles Darwin University Art Collection and Art Gallery
30 April 2013


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