Desert Dots II draws attention to the authority dots are in Utopia Aboriginal art despite the region being known for its less traditional artistry.
The exhibition showcases 24 exquisite dot paintings by four female artists from one Utopia community who paint the same story, using just dots:
Kathleen Ngale, Polly Ngale and Glady Kemarre and Elizabeth Mpetyane
Join us in exploring the story, the artists and the techniques.
Desert Dots II
It is told that in the Dreamtime, winds blew from all directions carrying the seed of a sweet black berry over the land. The first conkerberry then grew, bore fruit and dropped more seeds. Winds blew these seeds all over the Dreaming lands.
This story belongs to Ahalpere country which lies north east of Alice Springs in the Utopia region, where the Dreaming lands stretch across kilometres of lush desert scape.
The conkerberry is a sweet and nutritious black berry that can be eaten straight off the tree, or collected in bulk when dry and fallen, and reconstituted in water.
The conkerberries grow on a a tangled, spiny tree (or shrub) that bares medicinal properties, and this is also important in the story as well. The orange inner bark from the roots can be soaked in water and the resultant solutions used as a medicinal wash that is particularly favoured for skin and eye conditions.
Polly Ngale is considered to be one of the most accomplished painters to have come from Utopia. Polly was first introduced to the medium of batik in the late 1980's and her work in this is represented in the Holmes a Court Collection. Polly then commenced painting in the 1990's when the movement swept Utopia. Her most notable achievements in this medium are her honourable mention as a 2004 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award finalist, which was followed by representation at the Contemporary Art Fair in Paris at the Grand Palais Champs Elysees. Also notable is her inclusion in the exhibition at the Hillside Forum Daikanyama Tokyo in 2008; Emily Kngwarreye and her Legacy.
Polly's paintings often exude a warmth generated by a rich palette of earthy colours, and are borne from traditional knowledge of the subject matter, of spiritual ties, ceremonial connection and personal responsibility.
Sister Kathleen Ngale paints in a similar dotting style and her artwork has also been well exhibited. Early on her paintings were predominately distinguishable by the all over white dotting, that was layered upon layer, creating different dimensions with the consistency of the paint and the resultant shades. Magenta is also a featured hue in her artworks, often mixed with red ochre, and combined with white dotting, creating a colour scape on the canvas most closely representing the conkerberry across the dreaming lands.
Her work has been exhibited around the globe and is also featured frequently in Aboriginal Art Auctions.
Polly and Kathleen both have custodianship of the Conkerberry Story and are responsible for educating younger generations. It is no coincidence then that so many people from their community paint this story.
Kathleen's daughter, Elizabeth Mpetyane, is one of them. Elizabeth still participates in traditional ways of life and ceremonies to promote the Dreamtime story.
We're excited to feature Elizabeth in this exhibition as a representative of the next generation carrying on the story. Elizabeth has become a fine dot artist, preferring to paint individual dots in contrast to Polly and Kathleen. Up close, you can see dots in different colours surrounded by smaller white dots that fill in all the gaps. The different consistency of application creates a disproportion in dots against a black background that gives her paintings a flickering, starry night sky quality. Although like the others her paintings represent the conkerberry, painted using just dots.
The late Glady Kemarre also began her career with the medium of batik and swiftly changed mediums to the ease and liberation of acrylics. Glady went on to become a fine dot artist, painting a number of different stories over the years, but none more so than the Conkerberry.
Many years ago, Glady was married to an older man named Paddy Price, whose brother was Gloria Petyarre's husband. Glady was closer in age to Kathleen and Polly's younger sister Angelina Ngale and for the past ten years they lived together with others in a large community humpy with others just on the outskirts of the community, living a traditional way of life.
Dots are generally applied with one of two instruments in Aboriginal art. For a long time, bamboo satay sticks were the norm and still are predominately used today. The larger flat end is more commonly used for single application of dots to paintings, but the sharp pointy end is also often painstakingly used to create even finer dots as well. In the early 00's, ink bottles became quite popular amongst Utopia artists where these small plastic bottles are filled up with acrylic paint and then squeezed out through different sized nibs to create the same effect.
The dump dump style, coined when Emily Kame Kngwarreye was painting in the 1990's, is a superimposed dotting technique used by artists such as Polly and Kathleen Ngale. Different sized brushes are 'dumped' into the paint and then transfer it onto the canvas in quick successions of dotting.
Neither of the artists in this exhibition speak much English or travel outside of their homeland much, and painting is a means to speak to the world outside of Utopia and share this part of them with us. They paint for the love of painting and teaching. Painting is a part of their life now and is often a community activity; a way for them to connect on their Dreaming and share with others.