Western Desert art movement well on track

  • Ashleigh Wilson, Arts editor
  • From: The Australian
  • August 26, 2011 12:00AM


FEW had seen anything like it. And if they had, they certainly weren't calling it art.

On August 27, 1971, the joint winner of the Caltex Golden Jubilee Art Award in Alice Springs was a little-known Aboriginal man named Kaapa Mbitjana Tjampitjinpa.

The judge, Jo Caddy, praised Tjampitjinpa as a "true artist" and said: "He took what he found, an old piece of waste lumber he located in a rubbish tip and the dregs of some paint he found lying around the settlement, and made art out of it."

This work, a board called Men's Ceremony for the Kangaroo, Gulgardi, marked the beginning of a new movement in Australian art. Until that point, indigenous art meant Albert Namatjira watercolours, or Arnhem Land barks, if it meant much at all to Western eyes.

"It would have shaken the place up a bit," said Paul Sweeney, manager of Papunya Tula Artists, the Aboriginal-owned art co-operative formed in 1972. "There was absolutely no awareness of central desert art. It just wasn't on people's radars at all. It made a pretty big statement in that respect."

This was a new aesthetic -- a new market, as well. The Western Desert art movement had begun, and with it a new industry and an appetite among non-indigenous observers for the work.

In Alice Springs yesterday, Tjampitjinpa's board was packed away with other works to be sent to Melbourne for an exhibition commemorating early Papunya art. Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art will open at the National Gallery of Victoria next month, and features more than 200 works that were created at the central Australian Aboriginal community in 1971 and 1972.

The exhibition will include works by artists such as Uta Uta Tjangala, Shorty Lungkata Tjungurrayi and Tjampitjinpa, who died in 1989.

Sweeney said the contemporary styles of Western Desert painters had evolved, with painters now taking a more abstract, less figurative approach.

The style of the work that won the Alice Springs art prize -- the winner was announced 40 years ago tomorrow -- had evolved over the years into a tradition much in demand by collectors.

"Things are much more stylised and pared back, much more minimal," Sweeney said. "The works in this show are distinctive. They are quite clearly from another time or place."

Margaret Olley, An Australian Icon in the Art World

Friends lay bouquets in memory of Margaret Olley

  • Matthew Westwood, Arts correspondent
  • From: The Australian
  • August 25, 2011 12:00AM

FLOWERS and friends were in abundance yesterday as hundreds of people gathered at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney to celebrate the life of artist Margaret Olley.

It was a tribute to Olley that so many people at the state memorial service could speak of their personal connection with her.

Governor-General Quentin Bryce spoke of her last visit to Olley at her home a few days before she died on July 26, aged 88.

They examined a Picasso that was to be given to the National Gallery of Australia, and touched on the delicate subject of how Olley wanted to be remembered.

"As I put my hand over hers, I observed on her face a paler cheek, a transparency, I thought, a difference in her from the last time," Ms Bryce said.

Olley loved music, and the service included performances by didgeridoo player William Barton, pianist Alexey Yemtsov, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and accordion soloist James Crabb.The two Archibald Prize-winning portraits of Olley -- William Dobell's from 1948 and Ben Quilty's from this year -- kept watch on proceedings.

Among those present were NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell, Governor Marie Bashir and former prime minister John Howard. Guests included past and present gallery directors Betty Churcher, Edmund Capon, Ron Radford and Tony Ellwood; artists Ray Crooke, John Olsen and Nicholas Harding; fashion designers Peter Weiss and Carla Zampatti; composer Peter Sculthorpe; and Margaret Whitlam.

From Olley's close circle were her sister, Elaine Wilkinson; niece Sally Wilkinson; housemate Philippa Drynan; cleaner Poppy Panagopoulos; and friends Philip Bacon and Christine France. "She said to me not long ago that she wasn't ready to die, she had so much to do," Sally Wilkinson said.

Arts Minister Simon Crean and Olley's local member Malcolm Turnbull were prevented from attending by Tony Abbott's refusal to allow pairing with government MPs. The opposition was represented by arts spokesman George Brandis.

Ms Bryce thanked Olley for her generosity to art galleries and her capacity for friendship.

"But most of all, thank you for the marigolds, the iceland poppies, the flannel flowers."