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Past Exhibition

Warning: This page includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 


Lost Legends  Exhibition  |  3 Feb 2017 - 31 Mar 2017

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Lost Legends showcases the extraordinary works of three Utopia Aboriginal artists, now passed, described as 'the founders of Utopia art' and among Aboriginal art's most respected leaders during the Aboriginal art boom of the 1990's.

These artists are Greeny Purvis Petyarre, Ada Bird Petyarre and Nancy Kunoth Petyarre.

All three were born in the 1930's and grew up in close proximity together.

Passing within two years of each other, they each left a legacy both culturally and artistically, that has faded disappointingly from the spotlight, due in large because their art is scarce to find; having been whisked into private collections upon their passing.

Shaping Utopia Art

Utopia art rose to prominence swiftly, largely because it heralded the emergence of strong female artists and their particular themes.

Among the original founding members were Ada and Nancy Petyarre.

In the late 1980's it had become apparent that a unique style had formed, and the first major book on these artists was the landmark publication Utopia Women’s Painting (1989), which featured Ada's work on the front cover.

Ada Bird was one of the first women exposing women's ceremonial body paint designs - using linear patterns and bold colours to share the sacred body paint designs and breasts, chest and navel areas in full illustrative outline. Today body paint designs are the single most painted design by women of Utopia, often in bright colours.

Nancy Kunothpainted fine dot work representing her Dreaming story, the Mountain Devil Lizard. But rather than paint from a purely symbolic or abstract perspective that other artists were using, Nancy's work reflected close up detail of the skin on the back of this little lizard. Her work was much more refined interpreting a deep understanding of her Dreaming that was overwhelming to art and cultural enthusiasts. Her paintings rarely changed over the years, contributing to the 'niche' that Aboriginal artists strive for in order to become recognised. 

From the outset, Greeny Purvis approached his canvases with far greater intimacy than other men of his time. Over time he revealed himself to be a very spiritual painter with a deep understanding and love for his country. His colour-charged linear works earned him the reputation "the most sophisticated male Australian Aboriginal artist of his time".  He was represented in the first ever National Aboriginal Art Award in 1984 and was a finalist in the Telstra Art Awards in 2004.

The Petyarre Name

Nancy and Ada share the same father and were blood sisters, while Greeny was a skin sibling sharing the same skin name, Petyarre. Utopia people belong predominately within eight different skin names, Petyarre being one of them. It is one of the most prominent associated with Aboriginal art due largely because of these artists and the legacy they built.

The most renowned artist of all the Petyarre's is Gloria Petyarre, younger sister of Ada and Nancy.

Collectively their paintings have been featured in solo and group exhibitions across the globe. Important collections that hold their work include the Art Gallery of South Australia, Artbank, The Aboriginal Art Museum in Utrecht, The Museum de Lyon in France, and the Thomas Vroom Collection in Amsterdam.

Today there are very few paintings by Ada, Nancy and Greeny available for sale and they are becoming increasingly difficult to source. For this reason, the Aboriginal and Indigenous Art Market website notes they will most likely experience a dramatic increase in price since they were also founders of the Utopia art movement. 

In this exhibition we proudly present 18 exquisite, timeless and 'lost' artworks by Ada, Nancy and Greeny Petyarre.


Exhibition artworks are no longer available. Please browse our collections to view all current paintings.


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