Nancy Kunoth Petyarre

A survey exhibition of Nancy Kunoth Petyarre, showing at Brisbane’s Mitchell Fine Art, pays homage to one of Central Australia’s most skilled and charismatic artists. Featuring paintings spanning more a decade, the presentation charts the spirited styles and stories for which this senior artist was renowned.

Sometime between 1934 and 1939, Nancy was born ‘out bush’ at Soakage Bore, about 350 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs. She grew up speaking the Anmatyerre language in the area known as Utopia – an Aboriginal homeland lying on a traditional boundary of the Alyawarra and Anmatjirrapeople, formed in 1978 by autonomous activism in the early phase of the land rights movement. It is here that her parents, Topsey Pwerle and Mick Kngwarreye, had lived traditional lives in the desert.

Nancy was the second eldest of the acclaimed seven Petyarre sisters – Gloria, Myrtle, Kathleen, Violet, Ada and Jean – all artists of international recognition. Yet it was not until she was in her forties, in the 1980s, that Nancy started painting. She had no formal education and knew almost nothing of Western art. Her first exhibition came in 1989 when she was around fifty years old, at the S. H. Ervin Gallery.

Like many of the female artists from the Utopia area, Nancy worked in batik and gradually evolved her art to canvas in the late 1980s. Her primary dreaming was Arnkerrthe, the Mountain Devil Lizard, and many of her paintings depict the skin on the back of the lizard through compositions of delicate dotting. Constellations of dots swarm around a centre point while tonal shifts evoke the textures and patterns of the lizard’s scales. Later Nancy’s works became more linear, rendered with flowing strokes and striking colours. Other works include ‘Awelye’ or body painting, replicating the ceremonial iconography associated with dreaming stories painted on women’s bodies. Nancy is also known for her carvings and wood block prints

In 2009 Nancy passed away; marking the loss of both a talented artist and senior cultural custodian of the Anmatyerre people. She requested to be buried next to Emily Kame Kngwarreye in a little-known spot along the Sandover Highway.

Nancy Petyarre
27 February – 23 March, 2019
Mitchell Fine Art, Brisbane


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