Indigenous artists from the center of the Australian continent unleashed a wave of art production in the 1970s that has been described as a renaissance of the world’s oldest living cultures. A few masters of this unusual chapter of art history are assembled here. Each is known to use exuberant colors and visual conventions that may induce vertigo or a sense of displacement from usual perspectives.
Emily Kame Kngwarray paints with great bravado to take viewers underground to watch yams grow. Gloria Petyarre places us in the middle of a storm of leaves and Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri follows the trail of an ancestral woman as she moves across a landscape without a horizon line.
In the hands of such artists, paint is put to a unique test—challenging our perception of how much a line, dash, or dot can convey. Their efforts offer a dynamic view of unexpected subjects. Look around to see if you can identify a rockhole, bush plum, blood, emu’s heart, and mouse dreaming.
Twelve canvases from the central desert region of Australia are on view. All are gifts or promised gifts by Robert Kaplan and Margaret Levi to the Seattle Art Museum, and were featured in the museum’s exhibition and publication entitled Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art, published with Yale University Press in 2012.
Leaves (detail), 2002, Gloria Tamerr Petyarre, Australian Aboriginal, Anmatyerr people, Utopia, Central Desert, Northern Territory, born 1938, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 70 7/8 x 157 1/2in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of Bagley and Virginia Wright, and in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2000.157. © Gloria Petyarre, Photo: Paul Macapia.