Emily Kame Kngwarreye

1910-1996

Emily Kame Kngwarreye, an elder of the Alhalkere tribe in Australia, was considered the most accomplished painter of Indigenous Australia.  She did not begin to make art until she was in her late seventies.  She first created cotton and silk batiks but got tired of all the labor they involved.  She then moved from batik to painting on canvas.

In 1988, she showed her acrylic paintings for the  first time.  As in traditional indigenous art, Kngwarreye used dots of varying sizes and colors, massed together or even lying on top of one another in distinct patterns.  These paintings were smaller versions of the large ground paintings associated with women’s ceremonies.

Her artwork came to defy indigenous Australian painting because she created her own artistic style.  She went through many different styles as she began to join dots into lines in 1991 and then to add color into her paintings in 1993.  She depicted her country as thick nets of red and pink lines as in her “Kame Yam Awelye.”

In 1995, she ended her color phase and painted with plain stripes that crossed the canvas.  These stripes referenced yam tracks, chosen because yams are an important source of food for Australia’s indigenous people.  Her paintings began to resemble American abstract expressionist paintings as more and more thinner lines criss-crossed the canvas.

She was included in the National Pavilion in the 1997 Venice Biennial. Her work is being exhibited in “Desert Painters of Australia” at Gagosian through July 3, 2019.

More here.

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