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GREENY PURVIS PETYARRE: A Spiritual Artist, Leader and Gentleman

March 23, 2017 3 min read

"...a very high proportion [of his paintings] are rendered with the greatest integrity and intimate detail. The best of these are a pleasure to behold, and a privilege to possess."

Greeny Purvis Petyarre was a true Utopian gentleman

Greeny Purvis Petyarre was an elder of Alhalkere country, holding ownership of Dreaming stories and ceremonies. He had a deep respect and bond with his land and lived a long life at Boundary Bore, an outstation situated in his country in the Utopia region. 

The outstation is home to around 200 people; mostly those from Alhalkere country or those married into the family.

Alhalkere people have close ties with Atnangkere country nearby. Alhalkere being the chief country means Greeny was seen as a high ranking elder for people of both countries. Some names of Atnangkere countrywoman synonymous with Aboriginal are sisters Ada Bird Petyarre, Gloria Petyarre and Kathleen Petyarre.  

One of the most significant Dreaming stories belonging to Alhalkere is the Pencil Yam story. Called Atnwelarr in Greeny's native language, the pencil yam is a small skinny tuber growing beneath the ground.

This story has become recognised around the world due to Greeny's father's sister, Emily Kame Kngwarreye who painted this Dreaming herself. Some of Emily's works have fetched upwards of one million dollars. Emily continues to be Australia's top ranked female Aboriginal artist despite her passing in 1996. 

It is widely understood that Emily received Greeny's blessing to paint this story, in order to seek an elder's approval, when she first put brush to canvas back in the 1980's.


If you'd like to know more about this particularly yam, you can read more about it at this link: Atnwelarr (Pencil Yam).

Vermilion, terracotta and cadmium orange incite a semblance to the desert tubers beneath the ground and compliment the eclectic mix of colours in this piece.

Deceptively elegant. Striking. Timeless.


Greeny's predominate body of work is painted in a strong linear style. These paintings are generally more highly colour charged than other remote Aboriginal male artists' work.

Having being around such a strong presence of Utopia female artists, who essentially paved the way for Aboriginal art in terms of colour and freedom of expression within the realms of their Dreaming, it is not such a stretch for Greeny to have adopted such strong colour expression in his own paintings.

Colour is just another way to express what is within, what is whole and what is true. But not just anyone can be so expressive. It takes an elder and leader, especially one with deep spiritual roots, to be able express his Dreaming in such a creative way as Greeny did.

Men traditionally have far more an obligation than women to maintain culture authenticity in their work, due largely because of their cultural roles in carrying on traditions within their country and communities. Owners of country are chosen by the previous owners. It is not just about blood, but a whole scope of qualities such as authenticity, integrity, natural leadership, knowledge, participation, respect held by others, respect for country, ability to navigate issues plaguing the community and be able to express, teach and pass down cultural stories in a meaningful way. 

By the mid 1990's Greeny had indeed revealed himself to be a very spiritual painter, with a deep understanding and love for his country. He was a true gentleman and leader, and his legacy of paintings reflect these qualities. 


Lost Legends Exhibition | 3 Feb -  31 March 2017
Greeny Purvis Petyarre: Artist Bio and Paintings


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