Exposition Art Blog: Emily Kame Kngwarreye - Contemporary Indigenous Australian art

Emily Kame Kngwarreye - Contemporary Indigenous Australian art

"During a whirlwind painting career that lasted just eight years, octogenarian Emily Kame Kngwarreye became Aboriginal Australia’s most successful living artist and carved an enduring presence in the history of Australian art. By the time she passed away on September the 2nd 1996 her fame had achieved mythic status. The Sydney Morning Herald obituary reported the ‘Passing of a Home Grown Monet’. By this time comparisons with a number of great international artists including Pollock, Kandinsky, Monet and Matise, had become commonplace. Emily was an artistic superstar, the highest paid woman in the country, who created one of the most significant artistic legacies of our time.As a painter Emily was a bold, unselfconscious force unleashing colour and movement on to canvases that at their best could be sublime. Her finest paintings are entirely intuitive works, painted during furious sessions in which she never stepped back to look. Her forceful independent personality coupled with the strength she developed while working with camels and labouring during her earlier life was clearly evident as she painted. She worked as if possessed, drawing long meandering lines and bashing out fields of dots with her exceptionally strong hands and arms, displaying her ability to use the most unlikely overlays of colours to create deeply luminous works. Like Pollock she painted on the ground but, unlike him, she crouched over the canvas until done. She was renowned for walking away from a canvas without even surveying the finished product, such was her assuredness about its content and meaning.Those who knew her well describe her as having a strong personality, ready to have a good time and certainly not a frail old woman being manipulated, as some would have it, by dealers and art advisers. Deep down, her principle self-identity was as a contemporary artist with a deep commitment to looking after her country. She was uninterested in other artist’s work, except those depicting her own country, and when asked about other paintings would change the subject. Like her Anmatyerre clanswomen, Emily participated in ceremony (Awelye) to make herself happy. In doing so, she was 'promoting the health and well being of her community and demonstrating her ties with the land' (Green 1981). She loved getting her hands in to the paint as much as the brush when attacking the canvas. Paintings produced in summer were usually more colourful and highly charged with energy than those done in the dry season due to the keyed up expectation of rain, the excitement of its arrival and the explosive flowering of the desert. According to Margo Neale, curator of her 1998 retrospective exhibition, 'few artists have painted the country like she has, with an ability to penetrate its very soul'.(cooeeart.com.au)

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