Metro Gallery is pleased to offer, for private sale, Thorny Devil Lizard Dreaming by Kathleen Petyarre.
Commissioned by Galerie Australis in 2006 and bearing the gallery’s coveted stock number on the reverse of the painting, this painting is being offered on the market for the first time in over a decade.
Metro Gallery is pleased to be entrusted with brokering the sale of this work.
Kathleen Petyarre is widely recognised among the most celebrated indigenous Australian female artists. Of Alyawarre and Anmatyerre communities, Kathleen was born at Arnangkere and settled later at Iylenty, both within the boundaries of the famed Utopia Station, renowned as one of the important epicentres of contemporary indigenous art movements.
At the first glance, Utopia seems to be a misnomer, a reflection of the optimistic spirit of pastoralists, rather than Sir Thomas More’s idyllic sixteenth-century vision of an island in the Mediterranean. Yet the landscape is not as perpetually barren and flat as popular travel books would lead you to believe.The monotony is frequently broken up by rocky outcrops and mountainous ridges; a turn in the road opens up to an unexpectedly picturesque vista; an intricate web of underground rivers and waterholes creates a scattering of little oases with occasional gum trees, shrubs, and perennials.
After the 270-plus kilometres’ journey from Alice Springs, a welcome road marker announces a left turn; a dirt track leads away from the Sandover Highway to a small family outstation in the north-western part of Utopia, known as Iylenty, or Mosquito Bore. This is the Anmatyerr and Alyawarr country; and Mosquito Bore is the home to several generations of talented Aboriginal artists. They represent just one aspect of an exciting and continuous artistic development of the celebrated Utopia region. Their creative gene, their instinctive impulse to paint, comes forth through several successive generations within the same family. This is a widespread occurrence within indigenous cultures, for there are many renowned painters in their own right among the members of their extended kin, such as Kngwarrayes, Kngales and Petyarres. Their inherent creative abilities put one in mind of Australia’s non-indigenous artistically gifted families, such as Lindsays, Lamberts and Boyds.
To paraphrase Christine Nicholls, the paintings of Kathleen Petyarre, like those of her countrymen and women “are more than simple reconstructions of visible spatial features”.They offer “an integrated spatial, environmental, economic, spiritual and moral ‘reading’ of the land.” Although each of the Iylenty artists has their own distinctive style, Kathleen’s works are distinguished by rare aesthetic and tonal sensibilities. Her canvasses teem with multitudes of minute daubs and elegant wisps, produced by the thinnest of painting implements. The resulting works are among the most fastidiously crafted and meticulously executed. The patience and determination required to complete these works recall the vast mandalas which are painstakingly assembled by Buddhist monks from coloured grains of sand.
The contemplative allusion is not incidental; the very process of patiently bringing every painting to life is the meditative communion with an ancestral Dreaming. Kathleen, together with several generations of Petyarre artists, is among senior custodians of Mountain Devil Dreaming; while many of the Petyarre women were also inducted into the awelye rites. The indigenous cultures, in the absence of the written language, preserved their cultural heritage by the means of oral tradition, passing down the sacred totemic legends through the complex system of successive generations of designated elders and custodians.
Kathleen Petyarre’s artistic career stretches back to the original batik movement of the 1970s. Her beautiful silks were included in the ground-breaking exhibitions of batiks, where they took the pride of place alongside other gifted women artists of Utopia, including the artist’s ‘Auntie’, Emily Kame Kngwarreye (c.1910-1996)Together with Emily and her circle, Kathleen soon graduated from silks to painting on canvasses. A number of her works are based around awelye, sacred ceremonial body decorations used by the artist’s ancestors, as well as by present-day women ofUtopia in ritual ceremonies. As Margo Neale pointed out, “use of the body as a site, a surface and a tool for mark-making is integral to Aboriginal visual culture,”where distinctive body paint designs are demurely covered with a sheath of delicate dotting, a striking reminder of this time-honoured tradition.
Together with her celebrated Petyarre siblings, Kathleen shared the senior custodianship of Arnkerrth, the or Thorny Devil Lizard Dreaming. Kathleen’s paintings narrate the journey of a native lizard, and specifically the female of the species, following its seasonal migrations across the desert in search of food, water and shelter. The lizard leaves its distinctive tracks in the sand, and the outline of the surrounding mountain ridge is animistically reminiscent of its resting bodyThe painting depicts how the lizard traverses the ever-changing desert terrain, possessing a natural ability to change its colour, chameleon-like, for camouflage, in accordance with its environment and the time of day. The narrative of the journey provides for the highly individual visual language of narrative storytelling, and an artistic opportunity for iconographically rich displays of design and colour, while still retaining the essence of their sacred Dreaming Ancestor. Varying colours communicate changing seasons and the diverse palette of different areas across the country and different times of day, referencing the lizard’s ability to change its colour with the movement of the sun. The seasonal transmigration allows for the symbolic topographical depiction of the country, and iconographic indications of crossing paths and waterholes. Changing climate and mutable colours of the desert are indicated by variations within individual marks and the overall colour scheme of Thorny Devil Lizard Dreaming composition.