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Past Exhibition

Ochre Series Exhibition  |  30 JUN - 25 AUG 2017


Ochre Series is a collection of works executed with natural pigments or their acrylic counterparts - charcoal, and red, white and yellow ochre,and explores their use in Utopia art.

Utopia art has been known for its bold colour and contemporary influences since its inception in the 1970's. Due in large to the movement's origins of batik, historically a European medium, Utopia art thrives on diversity, modernism and above all else, rule breaking.

That isn't to say traditional colour, symbolism and meaning aren't apparent. Meaning is often 'sung' into the paintings as women sit together painting, singing and storytelling. We are fortunate to now see a generation of grandchildren and great grandchildren - those who sat and played near the older women over the past three decades - making their own art.

Symbolism, particularly U shaped symbols and concentric circles, can often be found in small paintings, or as an influence to a greater pattern of design. Traditional colours are still found in the art - whether it is rooted in meaning or as a decorative 'filler'. 

Art of Southern Utopia

In comparison to women, a small percentage of men at Utopia are painters. Some of these are the late Greeny Purvis, the late Kudditji Kngwarreye and Dinny Kunoth. These men were all rule breakers - in that their art evolved to become evocative yet deeply spiritual representations of their country and culture through lustrous colour and subjectivity. 

In stark contrast, artworks by men in southern Utopia are typically more formal, painted with true symbolism and colour combinations that denote specific meaning significant to their country and Dreamings. This traditionalism is indicative of their elders, Lindsay Bird Mpetyane and the late Harold Payne Mpetyane, and the manner in which they have led.

These elders are responsible for teaching lore and passing on the lessons of the ancestors. Their paintings rarely use colour that isn't reflecting a natural pigment or element of their Dreaming.

Meaning is often ambiguous, where artworks commonly hold multiple meanings that vary depending on the context and depicted usage. It might not be important that these men tell the exact story and have it recorded with the artwork, but capturing the story accurately on the canvas is. 

Ochre Series' featured painting (pictured above) is Bush Plum Dreaming by Lindsay Bird Mpetyane. Combinations of ochre colours and symbols are deeply rooted in the Bush Plum Dreaming that belongs to Lindsay's country, Ilkawerne, in the southern region of what is known as Utopia. Black or charcoal is significant to this story, and Lindsay first paints the black canvas grey to create a neutral surface.

Red ochre and charcoal lines are symbolic of the songlines (or travelling lines) of the Ilkawerne people associated with the Bush Plum Dreaming. Arrow-like symbols represent wild pigeons, who are sacred, walking across the land. When the symbols are black they, the pigeons, are walking over the bush plums that have fallen to the ground.

Using ochre to reconnect with land and creation

In 2005, artist Barbara Weir painted her own ochre series using a combination of natural ochre from the earth, combined with acrylics, in order to reconnect with the land and enhance the association of creation-time in her paintings. 

One of these exquisite pieces called Creation of My Mother's Country is featured in this exhibition (pictured below). The haphazard appearance impresses upon us the nature of creation; when the ancient ancestors created Atnwengerrp country, Barbara’s mother’s country, and all its accompanying land formations, flora, fauna and Dreamings. There are underlying systematic markings which represent some of the significant sites of the creation including that of ancestral dancing tracks, as they can still be seen today, etched in the rocks at a sacred place called Anthep

Ceremonial colours

Charcoal, and red, yellow and white ochre, are meaningful to the Central Desert Aboriginal people, and combinations of these colours not only have specific meanings but also denote origins.

Women of Ahalpere country, in the heart of Utopia, will paint a specific combination of yellow ochre, red ochre and white on their bodies for women's ceremonies, while women of Atnwengerrp and also Antarrengeny  in northern Utopia paint their bodies with just red ochre and white.

In Ochre Series, two paintings by Lena Pwerle and Connie Petyarre of Ahalpere country depict their body paint designs in yellow ochre, red ochre and white, produced in a body of works painted with their fingers in 2008.

Traditionally, fingers or hand made brushes called tyepales would be used to paint bodies, rocks, caves or sacred objects. Ochres were crushed and mixed with animal fats as a binder to create a natural paint.

We hope you enjoy the exhibition. Please explore the artworks to learn more about the individual pieces.

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