Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Emily Kngwarreye


Over an early 7 am coffee at the Farmers' Market
on a rainy puddle filled Sunday morning
a friend told me a story that included two Emilys.

The first Emily is Emily Carr, the Vancouver artist,
and the second, Emily Kngwarreye.
It is the second Emily that
I am going to tell you about today...

Bush Flowers

Emily Kame Kngwarreye, 1910-1996,
lived in the Utopia community,
220 km NE of Alice Springs,
in the Northern Territory of Australia

Emily was born at Alhalkere
and raised in traditional ways,
speaking the Anmatyerre language.

She began painting when in her late seventies,
and painted prolifically
for eight years until her death.

Flower Dreaming

Emily began painting after working on batik
with other women, as part of a community project.
She initially painted primarily with line and dot
and later moved to brushes

She created over 3000 works,
averaging one painting per day.

Emily at work

In regard to the content of Emily's work
I found the following paragraph:

"What Emily painted cannot be better described
than in her own words;
her definitive and most extensive
comment given almost regardless
of the artwork in question:"

“Whole lot, that’s the whole lot -

awelye [my dreaming],
atnwelarre [pencil yam],
arnkerrthe [mountain devil lizard],
ntange [grass seed],
tinge [dreamtime pup],
ankerre [emu],
intekwe [favourite food of emus, a small plant],
and kame [yam seed].

That’s what I paint, whole lot.”

My Country

Emily developed her own style of painting.

In the 1970s the predominant aboriginal art style
was the lining of dots side by side.
Emily's work on the other hand
shows many dots often lying on top of each other
and of varying size and colour..

Later the dots were joined into lines and stripes
representing rivers and terrain.
This was followed by the use of large brushes,
including shaving brushes, in a manner
which she called the dump dump style.

Bush Potato Dreaming

Her work then shows larger patches of colour
applied by bigger brushes
and thick lines such as those
in Bush Potato Dreaming

and later still, thinner brush lines
as in Big Yam Dreaming.

Big Yam Dreaming

A biography of Emily Kngwarreye
at the national Gallery of Australia
says that:

Emily's paintings are a representation
of the land and the spiritual forces
which imbue it
the contours and formations
of the landscape, climatic changes
the parched earth and flooding rains
the shapes and patterns of seeds and plants.

In 2008 an exhibition of 120 pieces
of Emily's work was held in
Tokyo and in Osaka, Japan.
This was considered to be a considerable coup
for an Australian indigenous artist.

This utube video

which unfortunately for most of us,
is in Japanese,

shows Emily Kngwarreye's community,
Emily working,
some of her fellow townspeople,
the landscape of the Utopia region
and a body of the artist's work,
and despite the language issue is well worth watching.

Earth's Creation (click the painting to gain a better impression)

In 2007 the painting Earth's Creation was sold,
for over $1.1m, which was then
a record figure for Aboriginal Australian artwork

Awelye - My Dreaming

A poem by Jennifer A Martiniello,
entitled Inevitable Grace,
won the Banjo Patterson poetry prize
in Australia in 2002.
This poem was a tribute to
Emily Kame Kngwarreye,
a wonderful artist and woman.

Inevitable Grace

(tribute to Emily Kame Kngwarreye)

your face
is the grace a harsh life
bestows on its survivors, each crease
a bar whose notes, escaping their dirge,
run for the high octaves like a bird
to a joyous freedom once the doors
of the cage are broken

deep-coloured as the millennia
sediments that scar the cliff faces of sacred country
your face is as ancient a bed to flowing water
carving its agelessness into the land the way
wisdom enscripts its elusive dance upon

and I watch you
slowly measuring out the journeylines with a finger
brushed with red earth and hear the dust
that others only see as a place to put their boots
open its voice and speak,
see your hand on the cave walls where they
have held the ochred spirit in the rock for all
eternity, and watch how the sun shifts
to accommodate your shadow, effortlessly,
day after day without tiring

I watch you bend
your face to greet the waterhole, see
how your laughter is caught up in the transient
ripples and released without possessive grasping
to share you with reed, tree, sky – how you
and it are the same manna
born in the same creation

I see… beyond the verticals
and horizontals of skin the hundred boys who’ve
died in custody and whom you’ve mourned, the warp
and weft of sorrow in your face for all the young women
whose eyes do not know their country or their mothers
but whose children still belong to your body – how your skin
stretches to embrace their homecoming with every
carefully recorded story, mother, son, daughter,
place and time – the same way your smile
stretches other boundaries

sometimes beyond comprehension
and lesser visions restrained to the finite byte
of desert stopover, campfire talk, a desperate camera-clutch
at a surreal otherworld that fail to distinguish how you
rise from earth, become
ancestor, mother, daughter, grandmother, granddaughter,
terrain, sacred physicality – fail to see
how the one spirit makes you blood and rock, well
and water

your face wears the intaglio of embattled anguish,
betrayal, theft, deceit, massacre and grief survived–
and when I remember the zealot piety and passion
of ANZAC, two world wars, Korea, Vietnam,
I remember also that you witnessed all of them
for nine generations and more; and as I watch you
bend to trace creation in red earth with a finger
more purposeful than Michaelangelo’s Sistine god’s
I see a light more eternal kindle in those you teach,
see each one, mirror-like, reflect the tireless radiance
of an inevitable grace

Jennifer A Martiniello




  1. i love this! what a tremendous lady she was. and she got started at 70. there's hope for the rest of us!! :-) and looking at her beautiful pictures was exactly what i needed for a few minutes between cranes and decks and azimuth thruster feels like i can breathe again now.

  2. Sometimes I think there's a sameishness about Aboriginal art. But not this lady's work!!! It's beautiful. And I'd never heard of her!

  3. Hi Julie,
    Well I'm glad that Emily gave you a little respite from your work...Her paintings are so bright and invigorating.

    Happy days

  4. RR, hello to you,

    I'm a bit like you as regards to Aboriginal art so I think maybe it is Emily's use of line and colour that are so inviting and captivating here.

    Happy Days

  5. in the foyer of my school we have a print of a painting by an australian aboriginal artist and i've always been drawn to it because i know it tells a story deeper than its clustered dots would suggest. emily's work is absolutely amazing!!!!!
    and emily carr - one of my fave canadian artists gets a mention too!!! both, incredible women artists!!! thanks for this.


  6. DELWYN this is grand,what a great post,love it!:O)

  7. Hi Steven,
    Aboriginal art is a very interesting field about which I know very little except that most artists are unschooled - they would not know a Picasso from a Rembrandt, their painting evolved out of ceremonial activities...and then in the 1960s-70s along came commercialism...and the ensuing issue of provenance. You have to wonder how Emily churned out one of those huge canvases each day...

    I am going to look into Emily #2's work sketchbook/account 'Pause'- are you familiar with the work?

    Happy Days

  8. Hi Aleks,

    Glad you liked it my friend

    Sunshine to you too...
    Happy Days

  9. Dear Delwyn! This post was stunning! What an inspiration Emily is to all of us who are tryng to find our creative expression.
    I've always had an interest in aboriginal art and the art of other indigenous people around the world. Thanks for including the picture of Emily and the poem, too.

  10. Another fabulous bio/intro. Are we going to learn of Emily Carr as well?

  11. hi delwyn,

    "pause" is new to me so i just ordered a copy but i have read her first work entitled "klee wyck". it was really fascinating and took me right inside her personal and painting life, which for a woman in her time was pretty extraordinary! i'm thinking i should post something about emily at some point - but there's already so much......

  12. Hi Angela,
    Good mrning from Thursday
    I'm happy you came by to enjoy the artwork and the touching poem.

    Happy Days

  13. Meri,

    I know zero about Emily # 2 so will do some research and read her book 'Pause'...
    and then decide if I resonate with her work...
    and go from there. Steven says there is a lot out there about her in blogsphere...

    Happy days

  14. Steven,

    As I just said to Meri, she is new to me.
    I will have to do some reading...

    Have a happy Day

  15. Dear Delwyn I will send an email..

    wonderful post!

    xxx Mona

  16. Hi Mona,

    I'll look forward to a chat...

    Happy days

  17. You have One nice blog!! The artworks of Emily is so fascinating!! Very interesting!

    First time here...will come bac for more:)

    Do visit to get a glimpse of my world.

    Have a wonderful day!

  18. deepazartz
    welcome to my pages, it is nice to meet you,

    There is always something exciting about meeting a newcomer and wondering how they came across your blog...

    I am glad you 'found' me because I know I am going to enjoy your artwork...

    Happy Days

  19. Now all i want more than anything else, is to see the actual works. If they are so fabulous on the comp screen how much more so the real paintings.

  20. Thanks Delwyn for finding your kind of treats in my blog:) I found you thru Yoon C's.

    Your place must be so nice to find so many wonders of nature around;from your desc.

    And I see that even you love Haikus.Hope we'll have a wonderful time together.

  21. Priya,
    hello to you,

    The paintings are huge. Yam Dreaming is about 3mx8m so they would look very different in the real. When you see her painting that huge canvas you wonder what plan she had in mind...whether the painting evolved or was thought out beforehand.

    Happy Days

  22. Deepazartz

    I guessed yoon see was the common link.

    I am very lucky to live in this small town surrounded by sea and forest, bushland and tropical gardens - it is heaven to me.

  23. Deepazartz

    PS. I am sure we are going to enjoy each other's company and interests...

    Happy Days

  24. Tanks for your another spectacular sharing Delwyn,
    Emily Kame Kngwarreye is another great artist that paint legendary masterpieces. I love these abstract representations, not many people will find time to understand the paintings but I find these type of paintings challenge us into deep meditation.
    Wow! You have another great friend here Deepazartz. She is a great artist, very humble and beautiful in speech.
    I am so glad that she found your blog. Your beautiful blog should be seen to more:)

  25. Yoon See

    I'm glad you found this interesting - being the artist you are I thought it may be something you would like.
    I am lucky to have me deepazarz too - and you...
    Happy Days

  26. hi delwyn, in the post today "pause" by emily carr. thanks for tipping my head in that direction - i didn't even jnow the book existed until you mentioned it. i had to buy it used, it seems to have gone out of print. some generous soul a couple of thousand miles from here had a copy and so . . . . . . . have a peaceful day! steven

  27. I love it! Very creative!That's actually really cool.



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