BORN circa 1940
Eunice started painting with the opening of the Ikuntji Women’s Centre in 1992. Her father was Tutuma Tkapangarti, one of the first men to paint or Papunya Tula. He was a senior man of the southern-most Winanpa Pintupi Association.
Eunice paints her country which includes Tjukurla, Warakuna, Lupul, Punkuipirri, Tutuma’s mother’s country, Titurla Nangala, Mantamaru, Wurlilya (west of Tjukurla), Mulpunga and her birthplace Kuruuldu. Her mother was from the Walpiri side of Lake Mackay, Winparrku in Western Australia.
Born in Kuruuldu in the Western Desert of Australia circa 1940, Pintupi artist Eunice Napanangka is now close to sixty-five; an age when many of us are seriously thinking about retirement. But right now, thoughts of winding down her activities are not uppermost on Eunice Napanangka’s mind. The high level of demand for her work is keeping her extremely busy.
Napanangka lives and works at Ikunjti (Haast Bluff) in the Northern Territory, where she is at the vanguard of the very successful local art movement, led mainly by women. Over the past decade or so, Napanangka’s vigorous art works, characterised by their audacious colour combinations, dramatic contours and apparent spontaneity of expression, have increasingly been garnering public recognition and critical attention.
Napanangka’s deservedly-soaring reputation has arisen from her signature canvases where, in accordance with Pintupi Law, she depicts the country and Tjukurrpa (Dreamings) inherited from her father, the late Tutuma Tjapangarti. Tjapangarti himself was a Pintupi artist of considerable acclaim, whose involvement in the original group of Papunya artists who began painting in the early 1970s has guaranteed him a place in the annals of Australian art history.
Eunice Napanangka, who has strong western Warlpiri connections on her mother’s side, only began painting with acrylics on canvas in 1993, when the Ikuntji Women’s Centre first opened, although as a small child she began learning Tjukurrpa-related body painting from her grandmother.
Since 1993, Napanangka has been exhibiting her work extensively in Australia and overseas, in both solo and group exhibitions. In addition, her work is now represented in numerous public and private collections at home and abroad.
Using pastel tones on some occasions, and at other times making use of bold, explosive primary colours, Eunice Napanangka visually ‘translates’ the ceremonial hairstring and tali (stippled sandhills) of her father’s country and of her own childhood into often-surprising optical sequences and visual expressions of motion.
Some of Napanangka’s works, with their orchestrated, pulsating patterns, voluptuous curves and unrestrained palette, bear a superficial resemblance to the fractal imagery and rhythmic abstractions that are associated with the cellular, vegetal dynamics of the psychedelic sixties. But Eunice Napanangka is no ageing flower-child of the hippie movement, despite the fact that she creates compositions of seemingly cosmic energy!
Rather, it is Napanangka’s interior eye, focused firmly on the foundational Pintupi concept of Tjukurrpa (‘The Dreaming’) that generates and impels her vibrant imagery, coupled with an imaginative dimension that has been inspired by her father’s country (which, by inheritance, is therefore also her country). In terms of understanding the vision underlying Napanangka’s painting, the notion of ‘country’ that incorporates her (extended) family relationships, so important to Napanangka, constitutes her artistic ‘bottom line’, despite any chance-similarities with certain kinds of western abstraction, that can sometimes produce analogous visual results.
On the other hand, it needs to be recognised that Napanangka shares certain painterly characteristics with many successful contemporary ‘western’ artists. Recognising the intrinsic value of colour and its liberating effects, for example, Napanangka does not eschew hot pinks and gentle mauves, cornflower yellows, wild blues or sensual aquamarine colours. Napanangka’s serious, committed approach to her artwork, including a willingness to innovate with form and colour, is ultimately a reflection of the open and amenable person she is. ‘Don’t fence me in!’ this artist seems to be loudly proclaiming via her artistic choices and the high-key visual language of her paintings.
It is to the credit of the art coordinators at Ikuntji that, unlike many in their position elsewhere in Aboriginal Australia, they have actively encouraged artist-driven innovation. In particular, Wiko Djwan, the Arts Development Officer at Ikuntji, has encouraged the Ikuntji artists, including Eunice Napanangka, to develop a strong sense of their own professionalism as contemporary artists, and to push the artistic boundaries.
So what makes Eunice Napanangka’s compositions work so well? One could point to Napanangka’s ability to reproduce dynamic motional sequences that lead the viewer’s eye in continuous motion around her canvases, as if restlessly scanning, roving or dancing through ‘country’, her deployment of undulating waves or sensuous bands or blocs of interlocking colours, as well as the agreeably assymetrical nature of her works, which, in the end, is what separates true ‘art’ from bloodless ‘design’.
But above all, Eunice Napanangka brings an energy flow and a generosity of spirit to her work, springing from her own groundedness and a marvellous sense of joie de vivre.
– Christine Nicholls, Professor of Australian Studies, University of Tokyo
SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS
2000 Tjilkamata and Watuya (met Alice Nampitjinpa)
2000 – 2004 commercial gallery exhibitiona in Melbourne and Sydney
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
1993 Northern Territory Art Award, Alice Springs
1994 11th National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
1994 Australian High Commission and Hotel Shangri-la, Singapore
1994 Northern Territory Art Award, Alice Springs
1994 2nd National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition, Old Parliament House, Canberra
1995 Alice Springs Art Prize, Alice Springs
1995 Ikuntji: New Art from the Western Desert, Framed – The Darwin Gallery, Darwin
1995 Minyma Tjukurrpa, Haasts Bluff/Kintore Canvas Project, Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, Adelaide
1995 Northern Territory Art Award, Alice Springs
1995-96 12th National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
1995-96 Westpac Gallery, Melbourne; Brisbane City Hall Art Gallery, Brisbane
1996 13th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, Darwin
1996 Australian Heritage Commission, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition, ACT
1996 Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
1996 Native Title Now, Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, Adelaide
1997 14th National Aboriginal Art Award, Museum and Art Gallery, Northern Territory, Darwin
1997 Dreamings, Arnhem, Netherlands
1997 Ikuntji Tjuta in Canberra, Alliance Francaise, Canberra
1997 The Desert Mob Art Show, Araluen Centre for the Arts, Alice Springs
1998 Adelaide Fringe Festival, Desart Exhibition, Adelaide
1998 Bischoffs, California, USA
1998 Culture Store, Art Gallery, Rotterdam, Netherlands
1998 Dreamings, Vlaams-Europeesch Conferentiecentrum, Brüssel, Belgium
1998 Ikuntji Paintings, Gallerie Dusseldorf, Perth
1998 The Desert Mob Show, Araluen Centre for the Arts, Alice Springs
1999 Ikuntji Tjuta, Campbelltown City Art Gallery, Campbelltown
1999 Indigenous Art of the Dreamtime, Vereinte Nationen und Australische Vertretung bei den Vereinten Nationen, NY
1999 Spirit Country: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Gantner Myer Collection, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
2000 5th National Indigenous Heritage Art Award, The Art of Place, Canberra
2000 Desert Mob, Araluen Centre for the Arts, Alice Springs
2001 Our Country, Pintupi Women from Haasts Bluff, Raft Artspace, Darwin
2002 Adelaide Fringe Festival Desart Exhibition, Adelaide
2002 Desert Mob, Araluen Centre for the Arts, Alice Springs
2003 Desert Mob, Araluen Centre for the Arts, Alice Springs
2004 Carole Queriye Gallery, London
2004 Desert Divas, Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs
2004 Desert Mob, Araluen Centre for the Arts, Alice Springs
2004 Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs
2004 Gallery Hossack, London
2004 Red Dot Gallery, Singapore
2005 Red Dot Gallery, Singapore
2005 ‘Desert Divas’, Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs
2005 Art Frankfurt, Frankfurt
2005 Elisabeth Baehr, Art Frankfurt Germany
2005 ‘Big Country’, Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs
2005 Strata, Araluen Alice Springs
2005 Desert Mob, Araluen Alice Springs
2005 Gallery Gabrielle, Melbourne
2006 Gadfly Gallery, Perth, ‘Senior Aboriginal Women Artists of Central Australia’
2006 Gondwana, Alice Springs, ‘Big Country’
2006 Red Dot Gallery, Singapore, ‘Anangu’
2006 Araluen Gallery, Alice Springs, ‘DesertMob’
2007 Palya Art, Darwin/Sydney, ‘Palya @ Mary Place’
2007 Bandigan Gallery, Sydney, ‘Yaiti Yamimi’
2007 Ochre Gallery, Melbourne, ‘Group Show’
2007 Artkelch, Germany, ‘Women’s Business’
2007 Araleun Gallery, Alice Springs, ‘Desert Mob’
2007 Palya Art, Melbourne, ‘Group Show’
2007 Framed Gallery, Darwin, ‘Best Of The Best’
2007 Australia Dreaming Art, Melbourne, ‘Group Show’
2007 Short St Gallery, Broome, ‘Group Show’
2008 Gondwana Gallery, Alice Springs & Sydney, ‘Divas of the Desert’
2008 QDos Gallery, Lorne (Victoria), ‘Ikuntji Show’
2008 Kingsfisher Gallery, Perth, Western Australia, ‘Ikuntji Women Painters’
2008 Palya Art @ Mary Place, Sydney, ‘Group Show’
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
Campbelltown Regional Gallery, Campbelltown
Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide
University of Tasmania, Hobart
Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, Darwin
Thomas Vroom-Sammlung, Amsterdam
Bailleau Myer Collection, de Young Museum, San Francisco
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Electoral Calendar, 1996
Ikuntji Tjuta, touring, Campbelltown City Bicentennial Art Gallery (Hrsg.), Campbelltown, 1999
Ikuntji. Paintings from Haasts Bluff 1992-1994. Strocchi, M. (Hrsg.), IAD Press, Alice Springs, 1995
Isaacs, Jennifer, Spirit Country, Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art, Grant Hardie Books, Melbourne, 1999
The Fifth National Indigenous Heritage Art Award, The Art of Place, Australian Heritage Commission (Hrsg.), Canberra, 2000
The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, Kleinert, S. and Neale, M. (Hrsg.), Oxford Univ. Press, Melbourne, 2000
Twelfth National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, 1996