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Emily Kame Kngwarreye

STRONG a tribute 7 - 28 march 2020


STRONG This exhibition is a tribute to Emily Kame Kngwarreye and her outstanding contribution as one of Australia’s most important and truly unique artists. Utopia Art Sydney has had the great privilege of representing Kngwarreye throughout her whole painting career and subsequently continuing to support her work and reputation. Exhibitions like this remind us of the strength of her work and its vitality. It also shows us what a special talent Kngwarreye was. Many of the works in this exhibition have rarely been seen publicly and several have never been seen before. Many works have been included in retrospectives and public exhibitions, but importantly they cover the broad range of her oeuvre with distinction. Exhibitions like this are only possible through the generosity of lenders and we thank them for sharing treasured works. This has enabled us to draw together a powerful group of works with something from every year, 1988 - 1996. For those of us who knew Kngwarreye it is easy to understand the strength of these works. Kngwarreye was a woman of intelligence and conviction and these paintings hold the energy and essence that is ‘Alhalkere’, her beloved country. CH


In 1988 the Utopia women were known for their unique batiks and they had been collected by many institutions. The first examples I had seen were in the NGA, long flowing lengths hanging on the wall like paintings. Utopia Art Sydney’s first exhibition included some magnificent examples that were hung just like that but there were also smaller squares like this sold as scarves. There were t-shirts too! This piece was acquired by the owner in 1988 and remains in their collection.

1998, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, Queensland Art Gallery, Australia 1998, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia 1998, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, National Gallery of Victoria, Australia 1999, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, National Gallery of Australia

cat. 1, Untitled, 1988, silk batik, 91 x 92.5 cm


In 1989 a series of paintings were created by Kngwarreye and at this time Kngwarreye’s reputation was building and they were separated and placed with influential collectors. They have since been brought together in her major exhibitions. This piece is quite unique in that it is the only work on paper done by Kngwarreye until her ‘awelye’ works on paper five years later.

1998, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, Queensland Art Gallery, Australia 1998, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia 1998, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, National Gallery of Victoria, Australia 1999, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, National Gallery of Australia

cat. 2, Untitled, 1989, acrylic on paper, 76 x 56 cm


In 1990 Kngwarreye was preparing for her First Solo Show at Utopia Art Sydney and a series of works was made on a grey background with expressive underpainting and fine over dotting. This work however had to go to Melbourne and thus was not in the show. This small group of seminal works have a unique place in Kngwarreye’s oeuvre as this is the first time Kngwarreye was preparing a body of work specifically for an exhibition and thus they mark the beginning of her exhibiting life.

2019, Sydney Contemporary 2019, Carriageworks

cat. 3, Untitled (Alhalkere), 1990, acrylic on linen, 125 x 121 cm


In 1991 Utopia Art Sydney was invited to present an exhibition of art from Utopia in Tokyo for the NHK gallery. The exhibition featured a suite of works by Lindsay Bird Mpetyane and a curated group of works by leading Utopia artists. This is one of the three paintings Kngwarrye contributed to the show.

1991, Utopia, NHK gallery, Tokyo 2006, Emily Kngwarreye - Ten Years On, Utopia Art Sydney

cat. 4, Untitled (Alhalkere), 1991, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 89 cm


This is possibly the most beautiful painting made by Kngwarreye in 1991, it’s her Lavender Mist and is without a doubt one of the major works of her oeuvre. The soft pinks and mauves subtly applied in rhythmic brush strokes across the whole surface of the painting create a shimmering universe. This is abstract painting at its best. It’s a field for contemplation grounded by the last few dark grey dabs, classic Kngwarreye!

2006, Emily Kame Kngwarreye - Ten Years On, Utopia Art Sydney 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, The National Art Center, Tokyo, Japan 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, National Museum of Australia 2012, Tell Me Tell Me: Australian and Korean Art 1976 - 2011, NAS gallery, Sydney; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea

cat. 5, Untitled (Alhalkere), 1991, acrylic on canvas, 149.5 x 246.8 cm


In 1989, Kngwarreye was making a body of work as part of the Holmes Ă Court Fellowship and made a pair of painted goannas, a figure and a coolamon. These were highly unusual at the time. Again, in 1992, it was rare to see a painted coolamon. Later she painted several car doors as part of a larger Utopia project. There are very few painted objects that exist in her oeuvre.

1998, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, Queensland Art Gallery, Australia 1998, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia 1998, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, National Gallery of Victoria, Australia 1999, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, National Gallery of Australia 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, The National Art Center, Tokyo, Japan 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, National Museum of Australia

cat. 6, Coolamon, 1992, acrylic on wood, 12 x 52 x 16 cm


This painting captures the spirit of the best works from early 1993 where Kngwarreye’s paintings were evolving and areas of colour were over painted with strands of dots. These begin to hint at the body paint and tracking designs that would follow in later years. These are energetic and active paintings and this work is contemporaneous with the work illustrated in the QAG survey exhibition (plate 72, p.114), which shares much of its dynamics. It also follows ‘The Alhalkere Suite’ in the NGA collection which is the major work of this period and perhaps Kngwarreye’s most important work.

2006, Emily Kame Kngwarreye - Ten Years On, Utopia Art Sydney

cat. 7, Untitled (Alhalkere), 1993, acrylic on canvas, 185 x 119 cm


In 1992 Kngwarreye was awarded the Australian Artist’s Creative Fellowship and announced she was giving up painting! Of course she did not but instead had a well earned sabbatical. When she returned to painting she kept asking for a big brush and finally I understood she meant the french house painting brush she had seen when staying in Sydney. Kngwarreye made a series of tall panels each filled with the largest florets she had ever painted. These pictures were like flower beds full of life and works from this series were included in all of her retrospectives. Other works from this series have been exhibited but these two pieces have never been seen publicly before.

cat. 8, Untitled, 1993, acrylic on canvas, 232 x 79 cm


In 1994 Kngwarreye made the most momentous shift of her career. She had been unwell but insisted on painting so Rodney Gooch delivered some sheets of paper which were not too big, lightweight and easy to handle. I still remember his surprise/shock at the time. Kngwarreye sheepishly handed over six white sheets crossed by thin black lines. These were the first ‘awelye’ paintings. Awelye translates as body paint, but it also refers to the body of knowledge that the women hold dear. It’s a term that has many layers and its elegant simplicity belies its great import. Given the circumstances, these stark early works were visceral and direct. As the late James Mollison said, “They are black lines on a white page, but why are they so good?” He acquired them for the NGV straight away.

This is unquestionably the masterwork of this period. Six panels, side by side, filled with energy, full of confidence and full of risk. Colours shift dramatically as they dance across the picture plane, every mark is direct, not a mark out of place. This is Kngwarreye’s Blue Poles, it’s big, it’s emphatic and it draws you in.

1997, Fluent, Australian Pavilion, The Biennale of Venice, Italy 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, The National Art Center, Tokyo, Japan 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, National Museum of Australia 2016, Awelye, Utopia Art Sydney 2016, Sixth Sense, National Art School Gallery, Sydney, Australia

cat. 9, Untitled (awelye), 1994, acrylic on polyester, six panels, each 190 x 56.7 cm


In 1994 work on paper became an integral part of Kngwarreye’s repertoire and while everyone knows about the ‘awelye’ works not everyone has seen these works done at virtually the same time. Here Kngwarreye used simple brushmarks and floated them sparely on the paper, much like she had done with the thin black lines and while Kngwarreye continued to explore ‘awelye’ these were a small defined group that are quite particular, and rare. Similar works have been included in her major surveys, but this work has not been seen before.

cat. 10, Untitled, 1994, acrylic on paper, 76 x 56 cm


From her earliest paintings Kngwarreye had often begun with a map like drawing which was often obscured or partly obscured by her dotted fields. It sometimes showed through and occassionally, as in cat. 13, it was added late but in 1995 the linear pattern took its own place and became the painting. The cover of the QAG catalogue Alhalkere: Paintings from Utopia, in 1998 had a contemporaneous work wrapped around the cover but this smaller piece has an interesting struggle between the white gridded layer and the red ochre overlay. The red ochre background layer was an experimental pre-primed polyester and Kngwarreye treated it almost like a sheet of coloured paper which adds to the graphic impact of this emphatic work.

2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, The National Art Center, Tokyo, Japan 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, National Museum of Australia

cat. 11, Untitled, 1995, acrylic on polyester, 95 x 75 cm


This ethereal painting is one of a group of five painted at the time. The first is in tones of hot pink and vivid white, while this, the last one painted, is a soft almost ghost like presence in pale and subtle pinks. I was admiring it when Kngwarreye quietly whispered to me that she had run out of paint! I didn’t mention that to anyone else there at the time, what happens in the studio, stays in the studio!

1995, Utopia Women, Utopia Art Sydney 2019, Sydney Contemporary 2019, Carriageworks

cat. 12, Untitled, 1995, acrylic on canvas, 148.5 x 56.5 cm


In 1996 Kngwarreye was comissioned by the Queensland Art Gallery to produce a major work and the result was a striking suite of 18 vertical panels where Kngwarreye revisited many aspects of her ouevre. That year, public galleries were invited to make a submission for the 1997 Venice Biennale. The QAG submission included the Kngwarreye panels and after considering the gallery space they realised they would need an emphatic work to anchor the suite, “like a full stop”. Kngwarryeye had made a circular painting in 1989 and this inspired the creation of this painting as a possibility. Kngwarreye was also included in the succesful AGNSW submission for Venice, and her ‘awelye’ paintings made a formidable impression, along with her co-exhibitors Yvonne Koolmatrie and Judy Watson. Thus this work went to a private collection where it has remained ever since.

cat. 13, Untitled, 1996, acrylic on canvas, 122 cm diameter


Smaller works are easily overlooked but Kngwarreye was very comfortable at this scale. This beautiful example uses the subtle purple underpainting to great effect against the energetic pinks and reds in this lively composition.

2009, Abstraction, Utopia Art Sydney 2019, Sydney Contemporary 2019, Carriageworks, Sydney

cat. 14, Untitled (Alhalkere), 1993, acrylic on polyester, 107 x 84 cm *not on display*


Although 1994 is the year of awelye, Kngwarreye did not give up on her main body of work and this painting shows how she intensified her picture plane with a rich and restrained pallette to great effect.

2017, Masters, Utopia Art Sydney 2019, Australian Landscape, Utopia Art Sydney

cat. 15, Untitled (Alhalkere), 1994, acrylic on canvas, 108 x 85 cm *not on display*


It is interesting to see how Kngwarreye has subtly inserted the linear pattern of body paint design into this painting. The linear chains of dots form up in a similar way to the more direct lines in other works, and at the same time meld with the patterns we would more closely associate with her Alhalkere paintings. Never the less we are presented with a new dimension in this work.

cat. 16, Untitled, 1994, acrylic on linen, 183 x 124 cm *not on display*


cat. 17, Untitled (awelye), 1994, acrylic on paper, 75 x 50 cm cat. 18, Untitled (awelye), 1994, acrylic on paper, 75 x 50 cm cat. 19, Untitled (awelye), 1994, acrylic on paper, 75 x 50 cm


1996-7, Flagging the Republic, New England Regional Art Museum, NSW

cat. 20, Untitled (flag), 1996, acrylic on paper, 45 x 89.5 cm


cat. 21, Untitled (Alhalkere), 1989, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 60 cm


1993, Aratjara, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf

cat. 22, Body Paint for Emu, 1990, acrylic on masonite, 30 x 57 cm


cat. 23, Untitled, 1993, acrylic on canvas, 232 x 79 cm


cat. 24, Untitled, 1994, acrylic on canvas, 74 x 58.5 cm cat. 25, Untitled, 1994, acrylic on canvas, 74 x 58.5 cm


cat. 26, Untitled, 1991, acrylic on polycotton, 148.5 x 118.5 cm


Kngwarreye was an intelligent and astute woman. She knew her health was declining but in this four panel painting you once again see her in full flight. No scratchy marks here, this is action painting at its best, you can see the energy and committment sustained across the four canvasses to make this one of her most compelling late works.

cat. 27, Untitled, 1996, acrylic on polyester, four panels, each 260 x 85 cm


In late 1993 Kngwarreye returned to the energetic and fluid style where zones of colour were laced with lines of dots. These were very atmospheric and sometimes moody works in greys and mauves. This is one of the largest works of this period and reveals Kngwarreye’s deft use of colour and great use of space.

cat. 28, Untitled, 1993, acrylic on canvas, 173 x 198.5 cm


cat. 29, Untitled, 1992, acrylic on canvas, 165 x 295 cm


2008, More than Stories, Utopia Art Sydney

cat. 30, Untitled (yam), 1995, acrylic on polyester, 245 x 201 cm


Kngwarreye was trying everything in 1994 and this idiosyncratic work captures her thinking out loud. The ground of this picture could be considered typical of the time but the over painting and linear pattern come to the fore and hint at what is to come in 1995. This was done at the same time as several other works which are dense in colour and have no sign of this new development such as cat. 12, and so we can see in this painting an artist right at the point of change and it’s a fascinating moment.

1998, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, Queensland Art Gallery, Australia 1998, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia 1998, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, National Gallery of Victoria, Australia 1999, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, National Gallery of Australia

cat. 31, Untitled, 1994, acrylic on canvas, 161 x 183 cm


2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, The National Art Center, Tokyo, Japan 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, National Museum of Australia

cat. 32, Untitled, 1992, acrylic on canvas, 163.8 x 226.3 cm


This work has never been seen in public before and it is wonderful to have it on view for the first time. This rare piece is one of a small number of ‘gridded’ works, this one painted on red ochre pre-primed polyester. The pale white lines create a net like form which floats easily on the rich red space. It’s a very ethereal and beautiful painting, a late and confident work. Once again the red ochre pre-primed polyester allowed Kngwarreye to paint just as if this was a giant sheet of paper and thus the freedom in every brush stroke.

cat. 33, Untitled, 1995, acrylic on polyester, 231 x 199 cm


1997, Fluent, Australian Pavilion, The Biennale of Venice, Italy 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, The National Art Center, Tokyo, Japan 2008, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, National Museum of Australia

cat. 34, Untitled (awelye), 1995, acrylic on polyester, 185 x 79.5 cm


This pair of panels were acquired as soon as they arrived in the gallery and have been in the same collection ever since. This will be only the second time they have been seen publicly, but I suspect it will not be the last. They are in stark contrast to the first works, the tones are rich and sensuous, but no less compelling.

2003, In Conversation, Universtity of Queensland Art Museum, Qld

cat. 35, Untitled (awelye), 1994, acrylic on canvas, two panels, each 185 x 86 cm *not on display*


Utopia Art Sydney 983 Bourke St Waterloo NSW 2017 Telephone: + 61 2 9319 6437 email: art@utopiaartsydney.com.au www.utopiaartsydney.com.au © Utopia Art Sydney


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Emily Kame Kngwarreye  

Emily Kame Kngwarreye STRONG - a tribute 7 - 28 March, 2020

Emily Kame Kngwarreye  

Emily Kame Kngwarreye STRONG - a tribute 7 - 28 March, 2020

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