Sunday, 23 March 2008

Emily makes inroads into Japan

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I reported on March 8 about an exhibition in Japan featuring Emily Kngwarreye. Well the exhibition has been picked up by local press in Japan so i decided to feature the article here on Aboriginalartblog.com. It's a very well written article, well worth the read!

The Japanese market has always been a little strange for Aboriginal Art. Whilst the Japanese love of Australia as a holiday destination is well known, their appreciation of Aboriginal Art has taken a little longer to develop. It seems at long last Aboriginal Art is making inroads into the Asian market. Hopefully the Japanese will come to appreciate our Indigenous art in the same way as many other people from other parts of the world have!

Emily's Country

Akino Yoshihara / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

OSAKA--An Aborigine community in the boundless red desert of central Australia nurtured a gifted artist who was full of dynamism and creativity. Emily Kame Kngwarreye, who lived in a remote region on the edge of the Simpson Desert for more than 80 years, had no exposure to the Western art world for most of her life. Nevertheless, she is highly admired by international art experts and collectors as one of the great abstract painters of the 20th century.

The sophisticated artistic expression in her paintings is often compared with that of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. In fact, the development her art followed is regarded as parallel to that of contemporary art itself.

Some readers may still remember a Sydney auction that stunned the art world in 2007. Her 1994 painting Earth's Creation was sold for more than 1 million Australian dollars (about 95 million yen), marking a new record for a female Australian artist.

Margo Neale, a senior curator of the National Museum of Australia, says Emily's paintings appeal to Western viewers because they are not "readable," unlike other conventional Aborigine paintings, which have visible motifs.

Emily--as she is most commonly known--was born around 1910 in her paternal clan's country, Alhalkere, in the Utopia region, about 230 kilometers northeast of Alice Springs. As a senior custodian of her people's culture, she had been involved in body marking and sand drawings for decades before starting batik work in 1977 as part of government-funded education programs.

In 1989, when she was in her late 70s, she moved to acrylics on canvas, and produced between 3,000 and 4,000 works in the eight-year period until her death in 1996 at the estimated age of 86. Her studio was an open-air space on the ground where she usually sat cross-legged.

Emily, who was unable to write, painted from her shoulders instead of her wrists, making her paintings look extremely gestural.

Neale says Emily's brushstrokes were the natural and spontaneous brushwork that many Western artists struggle to achieve. "Hers are totally exuberant, free and direct," she says.

The exhibition, titled Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, is currently on show at the National Museum of Art, Osaka. It explores the life of the extraordinary artist through more than 110 works, including batik dyed textiles, from 65 collections.

The exhibition, for which Neale is curator, came to fruition due in large part to the persistence of the National Museum's director, Akira Tatehata, who refers to Emily as a "miraculous painter."

Tatehata recalls his first encounter with her art at a retrospective exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery in 1998: "I was stunned [with her innovative art] because I didn't understand how an aboriginal genius whose life was unrelated to Western art culture could achieve the highest level of contemporary abstract art."

He says he was impressed by the way she created modernist pictorial space in her paintings, because he found her space was similar to the space that has been used for centuries by the great Western masters.

The exhibition will surely smash viewers' stereotyped images of aboriginal art, which is often perceived as primitive.

Although her abstract paintings are rather difficult to interpret, her art cannot be separated from the indigenous culture and tradition of Alhalkere, which is deeply connected with her life and spirituality.

Neale says, "No matter how original and profound her formal virtuosity, her style and methodology derive from very local aboriginal practices in which she was rigorously schooled."

She adds, "Her cultural traditions are quite Japanese in many ways, [such as] the reverence for nature, ritual, ancestor worship and the idea of the past in the present."

Aborigines pass down their cultural narratives about their worldview, known as Dreaming. These Dreaming stories are important records of their ancestral activities. For Aborigines who did not have a written language, painting helped them memorize history and laws, and retain their culture.

Likewise, Emily paid homage to her ancestors through singing and dancing for women's ceremonies, called Awelye, while depicting aspects of her Dreamings, such as pencil yams, grass seeds and emus, in her paintings.

Neale says it doesn't matter how different the paintings look; they are all about the same subject, her ancestral Alhalkere.

"It's her reason for being and source of her creative power," she says.

Emily's first painting, Emu Woman (1988-89), which was produced as part of a project organized by the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association, caused instant excitement for the quality of its aesthetics. The painting consists of decorative dots featuring ceremonial marks made on women's breasts in earth tones.

However, Yasuyuki Nakai, curator at the National Museum of Art, Osaka, argues that her style maintains flatness and simplicity while also expressing many ideas.

He also says that she--whether consciously or unconsciously--neutralized colors by skillfully using combinations of receding and advancing colors, applying black dots to white lines and brown dots to ochre lines, for example.

The degree of abstractness she employed grew over the next few years as she started to use colors indicative of her home while sticking to dots ranging from fine to coarse.

Emily is said to have determined which colors she would use not only by her emotional state but also by the changing seasons.

Kame--Summer Awelye I (1991) is painted in colors of yellow, orange, red and pink in the form of layers of fine dots, expressing wildflowers in full bloom throughout the dry land after summer rain.

In 1992, Emily went to Canberra to be awarded an Australian Artists Creative Fellowship by then Prime Minister Paul Keating. While there, she saw her own paintings hanging at the National Gallery of Australia.

Nakai says Emily's style of dot paintings had completely changed by that point, adding that it was a turning point in her career.

"Seeing her own work in Canberra may have made some impression on her because she was considering stopping painting at that time," he said.

The Alhalker[e] Suite (1993), a large-scale installment composed of 22 canvases, shows her prodigious talent in the use of diverse colors.

Nakai says, "Emily appeared to have created the composition of the paintings to make each look distinctively different by skillfully arranging warm and cold colors."

Moreover, experiments in brushstroke can be found in some of her paintings of this period.

Five untitled paintings displayed side by side were painted with a big shaving brush belonging to an artist and gallery owner whom she had known for a long time. The large multicolored dots that look like chrysanthemums were created as a consequence of the strength in her hand. As she slapped the canvas with the brush, the hairs splayed out in all directions, causing the paint to follow suit.

In early 1994, the expression of her paintings shifted from dots to minimal stripes derived from ceremonial markings on women's bodies. Because of the simplicity of the lines, the flow of the brush can be clearly observed. Some lines represent single strokes while others indicate the brush was lifted up in midflow, adding unique movement in the paintings.

Those minimal stripes, however, were transformed into meandering lines, becoming more bold and powerful a year later.

Challenging the limits of her physical strength, Emily depicted the yam as her major Dreaming story on a series of large canvases with flagging energy. In fact, the yam is important to her not only as a staple food, but also as an analogy for her life.

Her epic work Big Yam Dreaming (1995), measuring three meters by eight meters, was completed in just two days.

The white lines intertwining with each other against the black background represent hidden roots growing under the surface of the ground. The picture symbolizes the life force of the roots, which causes cracks on the surface of the ground.

Emily's distinctive dots and lines completely vanished from her final series of 24 paintings depicting Alhalkere, produced two weeks before her death in September 1996. Despite being in poor health, she never lost her desire to paint and asked for a brush about 10 centimeters wide. Consequently, her brushstrokes became bold and smooth.

The small canvases feature slabs of vivid colors, including rose, ultramarine and red. The direct and immediate action of the brushstrokes looks somewhat tensed, reflecting her mental state in those days, but also shows her unbelievable vitality and great confidence in her work.

No matter how her style of painting changed, her deep affection for her country, Alhalkere, remained in her mind through her life.

*Note: Emily's paintings have no established position in which they must be shown, so their display may vary depending on publication or exhibit.

Utopia:

The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Until April 13, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (until 7 p.m. on Fridays). Closed Mondays.

National Museum of Art, Osaka in Kita Ward, Osaka, a 10-minute walk from Higobashi Station on the city's Yotsubashi subway line.

Admission: 1,300 yen for adults; 1,000 yen for university students; 600 yen for high school students. For details, call the museum at (06) 6447-4680 or visit the Web site at www.emily2008.jp. The exhibition will tour to the National Art Center, Tokyo, in Minato Ward, Tokyo, from May 28 to July 28.

Ticket Giveaway

The Daily Yomiuri is giving away five pairs of tickets to Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye at the National Museum of Art, Osaka.

To apply for the tickets, send a postcard to arrive by March 20 with your name, address, age and telephone number to: Daily Yomiuri Ticket Giveaway, 5-9 Nozakicho, Kita Ward, Osaka 530-8551.


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Holidaying in Australia, Outback style!

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Here is a great article from an American about what it is like to take a holiday in Australia Outback Style! For anyone thinking of coming to our wonderful country, this will give you a brief insight into what you can expect!


Make it more than 48 hours in the Outback

From Aboriginal art to a singing dingo, Australia offers the trip of a lifetime

March 23, 2008
By Drew MacKenzie Special to The Sun


The Outback is a whole lot more than just a big rock in the middle of the desert, which is like saying the Grand Canyon is just a whole in the ground.

Each year thousands of tourists fly into Ayers Rock in Northern Territory, Australia, to spend less than 48 hours visiting the world's most famous monolith, now officially known by its Aboriginal name Uluru. But, though that's a must-see of course, they're missing out on an exciting cultural experience combined with a touch of luxury and adventure that can easily be considered the trip of a lifetime.

Instead of Ayers Rock, my wife, Emily, and I flew into Alice Springs, rented a car and headed for the beautiful Vatu Sanctuary, a mini-Shangri-La where we stayed in one of the three splendid villas. On the outside, there are magnificent fountains and ponds, as well as a solar-heated pool, not to mention the abundant bird life, while on the inside there's an impressive display of indigenous art from the owner's gallery in town, Gondwana.

Ayers Rock is increasingly being referred to as Uluru. The rock symbolizes a growing recognition of the important place Aborigines hold in a land they occupied before white settlers arrived. Courtesy of the Australian Tourist Commission

After learning about the origins of Aboriginal art at the Mbantua Gallery and how their dot paintings often explain their history, we headed over to the sizable Desert Park on the town's outskirts. With its extensive collection of local plant life, visitors learn how Aboriginal tribes survived off the land for 20,000 years while also spotting kangaroos and other creatures in the wild. Although the live Birds of Prey exhibition was captivating, more fascinating was the sprawling hall with its darkened rooms allowing visitors to see desert animals, like deadly brown snakes and adders, in their natural habitats.

After some gallery and museum hopping in town at Todd Mall, we dined at the fashionable QC restaurant and indulged in the tasting plate for two, consisting of a mixture of succulent specialties. The next morning we headed out early for the 465-kilometre drive to Uluru/Ayers Rock, making certain we were topped up with water and gasoline, just in case. On the way we stopped at Stuart's Well roadhouse for refills and were entertained by the famous Dinky the Singing Dingo, who howls while accompanying himself on the piano. Really!

With its red sand and changing flora, along with sightseeing stops for massive Mount Conner, the five-hour drive is gruelling but not boring. Finally, the famous sandstone rock Uluru, one of the world's great wonders, rises up in the distance, and the awesome sight made every mile worthwhile. With an hour, we were ensconced in a room at the luxurious five-star Voyages Sails in the Desert Hotel at the Ayers Rock Resort, where we were quickly loathe to leave our luscious surroundings.

However, wanting to learn more about Aboriginal art, we rode to the Dot Painting Workshop at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park where an indigenous artist, with a translator, showed how the locals paint, mostly with dots of varying colors, to describe their lives and culture. Afterwards, we visited the gargantuan 300-meter high rock, taking two Uluru walking tours that amazed with its sheer size and scope, and even catching sight of a wild dingo. Some people take the 8-kilometre, three-hour base walk as well.

The highlight of the Red Centre was the incredible candlelit Sounds of Silence dining experience, which at $150 a person seems steep at first but cheap in the end. After a coach drives diners onto a gravel road and drops them off on a mound in the desert, they have panoramic views of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta. While sipping champagne, the sun starts to slowly set, resulting in incredible color changes on Uluru and even a rainbow effect in the sky. A didgeridoo player then thrills diners with his music and Aboriginal history, which is followed by a gourmet barbecue with Australian delicacies and classic national wines. The candles are then extinguished and we're treated to a lecture on the spectacular shining stars above, a real-life planetarium that includes the Milky Way and Southern Cross.

The next day we took it easier with an hour's drive to the dramatic Kata Tjuta, aka the Olgas, and went on the vigorous but enthralling Walpa Gorge Walk. That still left plenty of time to wallow in the hotel's huge pool and our room's round Jacuzzi tub before having dinner at the plush restaurant Kuniya, where the damper bread with spices was just remarkable and the Barramundi special unforgettable.

The following morning there was a 306-kilometre drive to Watarrka National Park, home to famed Kings Canyon, the Outback's miniversion of the Grand Canyon. And although we stayed at the Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge, we weren't exactly sleeping rough. With a comfortable cabin and king-sized bed, plus en suite facilities, we dined by campfire under the stars, feasting on tasty kangaroo and camel meat, and mouth-watering bugs. Ten minutes away, potential adventures include helicopter flights, camel rides and quad bike rides, with guides to prevent anyone getting lost in the wilderness.

Up before dawn the next day to walk the Canyon's rim for three hours before the sun made it unbearable, our outgoing guide led the way to the top, a strenuous rocky climb even for the moderately fit. The weathered domes of the Lost City were breathtaking while the Garden of Eden with its dark pool and lush plant life at the bottom is well worth the long trip down. Make sure to get a picture of yourself in the spot where "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" was filmed.

Although the arduous drive back to Alice Springs takes another four hours, it ended with a relaxing night at the recently-renovated Aurora, the only hotel on the bustling Todd Mall. After visiting the Reptile Centre with its venomous snakes and crocodile exhibits, we found the perfect way to end our stay, the Red Centre Dreaming dinner show. As wild kangaroos and wallabies come down from nearby hills to feast on scraps around the stage, the entertainment starts with a lecture on indigenous culture. It's followed by a three-course meal as Aboriginals, wearing body paint, put on an amusing display of traditional dancing and ancient tools like the boomerang.

Join in the fun, like I did, and make a fool of yourself trying to play the didgeridoo, because it's back to reality tomorrow.

Random facts

• There are 600,000 wild camels in Australia, and camel meat is becoming increasingly popular. Decades ago, camels were first imported from the Middle East and now they are being exported back there because they're purebred.

• The distance between Alice Springs and Kings Canyon will virtually be cut in half when a 100-kilometer gravel road cutoff, now used only by SUVs at a safe speed, is paved in the next few years.

• The didgeridoo is the oldest wind instrument in the world, and the Aborigines began playing it 1,500 years ago. The hollowed out tree branch measures up to 10 feet long and is played in keys from D to F.


Ayers Rock is increasingly being referred to as Uluru. The rock symbolizes a growing recognition of the important place Aborigines hold in a land they occupied before white settlers arrived.
Courtesy of the Australian Tourist Commission




Aboriginal Art remains strong in the auction market

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With the art auction market feeling the pinch currently, it was great to see that Aboriginal Art is still as popular as ever!

The below article is quite long and mainly deals with recent auctions involving non indigenous Australian Art but the bold part shows that despite the lull in the current auction market, Aboriginal Art sales remain strong, to the point that records have been broken at recent auctions.

This is great news for the industry and shows that the popularity of Aboriginal Art is able to transcend the current art market vulnerabilities.


Sombre times as art buyers sit on their hands

Peter Fish
March 22, 2008

There were long faces and numerous unsold lots at Deutscher-Menzies's big Sydney art auction on Tuesday. Even the auctioneers themselves didn't bother trying to put a positive spin on the sale, for a change.

You won't see a lot of gloating and chest-beating from DM's bitter auction rivals Sotheby's, Deutscher and Hackett, and Bonhams & Goodman, which have big sales coming up next month and a trail of anxious vendors with high expectations.

DM said the ratio of lots sold on the important first night of the two-night auction was down as much as 66 per cent, compared with previously claimed levels of about 75-85 per cent, saying many buyers seemed to be sitting on their hands. It figures the sale raised $8.3 million, excluding any after sales. That sold ratio means one-third of the 141 lots on offer - more than 46 paintings and sculptures - will go back to disappointed vendors.

The firm's national head of art, Tim Abdullah, said no one at DM was expecting this year to rival last year's boom, but even with lowered expectations the results were disappointing. ArtSmart was unable to attend, being caught up at the office till late, but there was plenty of anecdotal evidence that the mood at DM's Kensington premises was sombre, with bidding sporadic at best.

The auctioneer is claiming an artist record for its star lot, Russell Drysdale's Country Child at $1.68 million, but some observers point out the hammer price for this work, $1.4 million, was right on the button of the estimated range, given in the catalogue as $1.4 million to $1.8 million. Before the sale DM was whipping up expectations of $2 million plus. It's a worthy work, but is regarded as something of an old chestnut since it's been offered over and again in the saleroom - at least twice at DM itself in the past 10 years.

One of few standout prices was the modernistic rowing study The Eight, just 31 centimetres by 22 centimetres, by the British linocut artist Cyril Power. It paddled up a storm with a price of $44,000 compared with a $24,000 to $30,000 estimate, amid bidding from Britain, the US and Canada. Power was a member of London's Grosvenor school.

Sid Nolan's Kelly in the Landscape - unmasked in this column last week as the retitled Ned Kelly And Two Figures In The Bush, which sold for $306,200 at Christie's in 2005 - went for $660,000. That's more than double the 2005 price but still below expectations.
Important works by Salvador Dali and Rosalie Gascoigne were among the unsolds.

Indeed the auctioneer itself admits most of the major works were knocked down at the lower estimates. Did they all really find new homes or will some be discreetly reoffered around the trade in coming weeks, as has happened after DM sales before?

In the following night's sale, a somewhat more downmarket offering under the banner of DM's stablemate Lawson-Menzies, there was a considerably improved sold ratio of 84 per cent, and a number of records claimed for Aboriginal art. In the present squeeze on financial and credit markets - which almost certainly means few will be buying pictures with borrowed money - the art auction market is rapidly developing the jitters.

There are reports that Sotheby's and Deutscher and Hackett have been approaching dealers, showing off their wares and trying drum up interest in their upcoming sales. All around town there is the sound of vendor expectations being massaged downwards and estimates being cut to the bone. And it's unlikely the art gallery business will escape the pinch, despite the unseemly rush for Arthur Boyd's signature Shoalhaven River studies we reported last week.

Even the mercurial Rodney Menzies, who owns and runs Deutscher-Menzies and its stablemate Lawson-Menzies, was apparently in a dour mood on Tuesday, describing the sale as a tough day at the office.

Running a specialist art auction division with teams of well-paid specialists and high insurance and other overheads is an expensive business. There are many mouths to feed, as one insider said this week. Tough times could be ahead, particularly for those solely dependent on the flighty Australian paintings market - like the relative new boys on the block Deutscher and Hackett, run by the former DM men Chris Deutscher and Damien Hackett.
In such conditions it is handy to have a second string to the bow. Sotheby's and Bonhams & Goodman may be glad they retained a foothold in the less hype-driven decorative art and Australiana market, and in the case of B&G cars and collectables.

Rod Menzies might even discover his inner Annandale - perhaps he'll turn to his neglected Lawsons general auction business, run out of a seedy warehouse, as a beacon of steady saleroom cash flow.

Asian daggers, wavy or straight

Fanciers of the kris, the wavy or straight-edged blade that was once a symbol of pre-Islamic manliness and rank throughout much of Indonesia and Malaysia, will find much to admire on the website of Hermann Historica in Munich. The firm has catalogued a huge sale of historic weaponry and armour on April 9 and 10 including more than 60 kris, plus many other edged weapons from the East. Most of the kris on offer date from the early 20th century century, including a large number of Balinese examples. Many of the blades have gold details, said to indicate a royal or aristocratic provenance. Many have interesting pamor, the patterning that results after the kris maker folds in different metals as part of forging the blade, as well as carved hilts in ivory, horn or rare woods.

Among them is an "executioner" kris, so-called for its long, straight blade that was used to penetrate the unfortunate victim's heart from above, entering through the shoulder. The catalogue is at www.hermann-historica.com.

H marks Lachlan's dump

Noble Numismatics is offering another of its vast auctions of coins, notes, medals and other numismatic material in 16 sessions starting on April 8 and running through to the following Friday in Sydney. A highlight is the coin collection of the former Sydney taxi repairman John Wilson, which occupies a catalogue of its own. Wilson is known for seeking out coins in the most pristine state. As the catalogue says, he put quality first and price second. Most of the coins are the finest known examples of their type - which means they are sure to attract fancy prices. Among the many sharp and shiny specimens on offer, perhaps the least prepossessing is Wilson's "dump", the little coin that Governor Lachlan Macquarie punched out of his stock of Spanish dollars to provide distinctive coinage for the struggling colony.

The dump is marked on the front with a crown and the wording New South Wales, and the date, 1813. The outer "doughnut" that remained after Macquarie's moneyer punched out its centre was of course the legendary holey dollar or five shilling piece.

By striking coins worth six shillings and threepence from the dollar, which was worth five shillings, the canny Macquarie managed to add considerable value for his colonial treasury. The Wilson dump still shows traces of the host coin beneath the overstruck design, and also just visible on the reverse is the initial H, for the moneyer Macquarie used, the convict known only as Henshall.

Despite looking a bit scratched compared with its smart neighbours in the catalogue, the dump is attractive and relatively well preserved - hence the beefy estimate of $50,000. Whether it will get anywhere near the $99,025 one fetched last year remains to be seen.

The main sale includes four other examples with estimates from $4000. There are also some later replicas - the inclusion of which is controversial in a numismatic world where it's not unknown for copies to be resold to unwitting buyers as originals.

Among the items are a number of Tsarist-era Russian icons and other items including a collection of 19th and early 20th century silver cigarette cases. These are decorated with embossing, engraving, niello-work (a process of inlaying black pigment) or coloured enamels. Designs include prominent buildings, hunting scenes and animals.

 

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