Emily Kam Ngwarray
_Untitled (Alhalker)_ 1992
AGNSW collection

Emily Kam Ngwarray

Untitled (Alhalker)


Aboriginal artist Emily Kam Ngwarray lived in a remote community 230 kilometres northeast of Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territory. Having worked as a camel handler and stockhand, she did not take up painting on canvas until her seventies. Yet, in the final decade of her life, she achieved worldwide renown. Over an extraordinary eight-year professional career, she is said to have produced over 3000 paintings.

She had, however, been painting for decades in a ceremonial context, using the symbolic designs of her ancestors, and in the late 1970s had started making art with the Utopia Women's Batik Group, of which she was a founding member. But batik - which involves making designs with hot wax on fabric then dyeing them - didn't really suit her expressive, spontaneous style.

Some of her most recognised paintings comprise energetic patternings of dots, like this work. Here, you can see her method of mixing colours on the canvas by reapplying new layers while still wet and dipping her brush more than once in different colours to achieve jewel tones.

The work is an abstract representation of the landscape of Alhalker, where she was born. You can imagine light washing across the desert from dawn til dusk, and the land in bloom, with subtle shifts of colour referencing the seasons.

synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 165 x 480 cm, Mollie Gowing Acquisition Fund for Contemporary Aboriginal Art 1992 © Emily Kam Ngwarray. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney 229.1992