Thursday 29 May 2014
Soon after my family and I moved to Sydney in 1999, I started as a volunteer at the Mosman Art Gallery. Not long after, a touring exhibition of work from Papunya Tula artists opened at the gallery and I was asked to take a tour of the show for the public.
I was somewhat astounded as I did not know anything about Papunya Tula art, couldn’t find relevant locations on a map, and had never visited that part of Australia or knew any of the artists. How could I take this tour based on zero knowledge but a lot of curiosity to learn? I decided the best policy was to ask people in the group that arrived for the tour, to take ME on the tour instead and it worked really well as people in the group had all sorts of connections and knowledge of the place and the artists and I started to learn about the history of the Papunya Art movement.
So my limited knowledge of Papunya Tula began, more from an exploratory position of unknowing, if you like: from the position of the outsider wanting to learn more.
Now, many years later, with the opening of My Country at Auckland Art Gallery, I have revisited the work and this time, I had the Aboriginal works from the Chartwell Collection to draw on when considering the influence and impact of the Papunya Tula art movement on Australian art.
Over the years, my father Rob acquired some major works by Aboriginal artists for the Chartwell Collection. This is a collection of New Zealand and Australian contemporary art held on long-term loan at Auckland Art Gallery and it holds fine examples of works by major Papunya Tula artists such as Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, Charlie Tjaruru Tjungurrayi and Mick Namerari Tjapaltjarri, all senior artists who were involved in the establishment of the Papunya Tula Pty Ltd in the early 1970s.
Recently, researcher Ariane Craig-Smith looked into the development of this collection of work and wrote about it on the Chartwell Collection website. (Ariane Craig-Smith, 2014: www.chartwell.org.nz)
As Ariane noted, it was very unusual to be looking at Aboriginal work in the 1980s – especially coming from a collecting perspective in New Zealand. As Rob Gardiner explained to her, it was about that time that he was visiting Australia regularly to see major exhibitions and purchase works for the Collection. ‘Trips were planned to include visits to galleries showing contemporary Aboriginal artists and I was also interested in the work of Australian artists Ian Fairweather and Tony Tuckson,’ Rob explains. Driving his interest in the painting process and style of Fairweather, Tuckson, and the Aboriginal painters, was his curiosity about mark-making and the picture surface, which firstly drew him to the works of Papunya Tula artists, then to the astonishing work of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, which he first discovered at the Utopia Gallery. As he describes it, ‘at the time there was a perception that one should understand and respect the meanings and stories driving Aboriginal works, from an anthropological point of view. But I was encountering these works without that knowledge and could only respond by empathy with their formal content, the energy of their marks, and the painterly languages involved.’
Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, Charlie Tjaruru Tjungurrayi and Mick Namerari Tjapaltjarri were integral to the development of the Papunya Tula art movement, meeting the teacher Geoffrey Bardon when he arrived to teach at the local school in Papunya in 1971. The Central Desert government settlement of Papunya is 240 kilometers north west of Alice Springs. As a result of the Government’s assimilation policies, Papunya was the last of the Aboriginal reserves to be set up by the Federal Government in 1961. By the time Bardon arrived, it was a community of over 1000 people beset by poor living conditions, health problems and great inter-tribal conflicts between groups. Bardon started to work on art projects with the children and this work was to become a matter of interest to the Aboriginal adults such as Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, the school yardman, and village councillors such as Mick Namerari Tjapaltjarri. They were intrigued by the painting he was encouraging in the classroom with the children and later were among the group involved in the establishment of Papunya Tula Pty Ltd.
Initially using available school supplies of poster paint, paint brushes and paper, as well as found boards and off cuts, the rapidly growing group of artists produced a lot of work over a short, intensive period of painting, including the creation of five murals at the school: A Practice Dreaming, Widows Dreaming mural, Wallaby Dreaming mural, Snake Dreaming mural and the Honey Ant Dreaming in two versions.
Years later, in the late 1980s, these artists’ careers developed further with Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri representing Papunya Tula artists on several international cultural exchange projects and travelling to New York in 1988 for the opening of the ‘Dreamings’ show at the Asia Society Gallery. This was the year after he painted the work now in the Chartwell Collection. Charlie Tjaruru Tjungurrayi was the first Papunya artist to have a retrospective exhibition, held at Orange Regional Gallery in 1987, the same year Chartwell acquired his work.
More recent acquisitions to Chartwell include the fluorescent tube, light installation by Jonathan Jones, untitled (sum of the parts), 2010, currently on show in Auckland Art Gallery’s north Atrium, and the digital work, Light Painting (2010–11), by Nyapanyapa Yunupingu. Just as Billy Stockman Tjapatljarri was one of the first artists to begin painting large-scale canvases in the 1970s, these artists are exploring technology in new ways.
Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri
Budgerigar Dreaming At Ilpitirri 1987
acrylic on linen
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 1987
Mick Namerari Tjapaltjarri
acrylic on linen
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 1995
untitled (sum of the parts) 2010/2014
fluorescent tubes, wiring, electrical cable
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2010