EARTH’S CREATION – Why I sold for $2 million

Earth’s Creation by Emily Kame Kngwarreye no longer belongs to Mbantua Gallery.  On November 16th, 2017 we sold it at auction for $2 million.

On the face of it you would think that I’d be happy wouldn’t you?   But I wasn’t!  In fact, I was very disappointed – for many reasons..  If I was so disappointed, then why did I say “the painting is on the market” when the bidding reached $2 million?  I’ll attempt to explain my reasoning in as simple a manner as I can..

Firstly, I had approached the auction with two independent valuations – one for $4 million and one for $3 million.   Of course, valuations are not guarantees, but Earth’s Creation had been exhibited in the Venice Art Biennale after those valuations had been made so I thought it reasonable that the painting had the potential of reaching $3 million, if not $4 million!

I had been thinking of the sale of Earth’s Creation for a year or two before it went to auction.  During this time, I had many thoughts about what I wanted to do with the proceeds of the sale.  Eventually I decided on 3 sizeable donations to charities, after business debt was paid off.

The first donation was to the Mbantua Foundation.  The Mbantua Foundation is a tax deductible foundation I put together a number of years ago that is designed to put together sustainable projects for destitute and under privileged aboriginal people here in Central Australia.  Unfortunately, it has been fairly idle over the past few years.  In part, because of the flow on effects of the global financial crisis and also that I have never really attempted to source outside funds (apart from two friends who donated $25,000 each a few years ago).   However, recently I have been in the process of ramping this up.

I have for many years wanted to employ a full-time sports officer in Utopia.  In the last few months of the CLP Government in the NT, I had negotiated with the then Chief Minister, Adam Giles, that should I sell Earth’s Creation for $3.75 million the government would match $1 for $1 what Mbantua Gallery would donate over a 5 year period (this was obtained in writing).  Mbantua Gallery’s intention was $50,000 each year, throw in the matching $50,000 from the NT Government, and we have $100,000 per annum for 5 years.  (There has since been a change of government, but I would be surprised if the new Labor government wouldn’t honour that agreement).

We are also currently in the process of building a website for the Mbantua Foundation.  We have never had one before as we have generally relied on donations from Mbantua Gallery.  These have so far totalled approximately $251,000 over the years (recent figures from our accountant).  We are also setting a new direction for the Foundation (albeit with some old and established ideas) for a number of projects that need to be set up and gotten underway in some capacity.  I intend to set them up as independent projects but all under the Mbantua Foundation umbrella.

The second donation was to be to Ars Musica.  Ars Musica is the dream and creation of a very good friend of mine, Reverend Arthur Bridge AM of Sydney.  On many occasions over the years he and one of his Board members, (an ex Chair of the Sydney Opera House),  travelled with me on various art trips to Utopia.  It is a foundation set up to award scholarships to kids who have musical/theatrical talents but lack financial capacity to pursue those talents.  Father Arthur was, of course, privy to my intentions of donating to his Foundation.  Unfortunately, he was in hospital over the auction period but we had many text messages throughout which have been quite humorous (if he agrees, I will consider putting them on Facebook as humour has to be an important part of our lives…)

The third donation was to be to a yet undecided Children’s Cancer charity.  My heart (no doubt like all you) always goes out to kids who have cancer.

Mbantua Gallery had a business debt of just under $3 million.  This is almost entirely on the acquisition of artworks.

I had instructed our accountant that should we sell Earths Creation for $3.75million we would donate $250,000 to the Mbantua Foundation, $250,000 to Ars Musica and $250,000 to a Children’s Cancer hospital/charity.  If the amount should be less than $3.75million the donations would decrease pro rata to $3 million.  Should it sell for $3,000,000 or under, unfortunately the charities were to miss out.  I deemed it necessary for us to address the tax bill and our business debt first, leaving our business in a manageable position going forward.

So my disappointment in the $2 million sale figure is that now none of these donations are able to happen.

From the perspective of the actual painting – I was personally very disappointed that it didn’t remain in Australia.   I was certainly supportive of Adrian Newstead obtaining an export permit, and my reasoning for this was purely that I hoped it would increase bidding, which hopefully would then have enabled me to accomplish my goals as outlined earlier.

Earth’s Creation is a magnificent work in itself – and when the cultural background and life of Emily is factored in, it really should be sitting in the National Gallery of Australia or at the very least, a State Gallery.

Earth's Creation
Me with the magnificent Earth’s Creation by Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Putting aside my personal wants and desires, I am disappointed that those who have the financial capacity and love of Australian art and heritage, didn’t bid and secure it for Australia.  Or that a government didn’t have some involvement to secure it, because this particular painting is so iconic to Australia.    I say this emphasising the word disappointment rather than critical, because maybe it is just a few of us who treasure the importance of the painting.

So why did I allow it to be “on the market” at $2 million?

  • I was certainly hoping that some good bidding would get underway! If I had have known that $2 million was going to be the last bid, I probably would not have done so!
  • I have responsibility to my 20 or so staff members and a very large team of artists. That responsibility is to ensure that Mbantua Gallery continues to support, encourage and promote the art of the Utopia region.   In this unstable economic climate, reducing debt in the business was the smart thing to do to enable us to keep our responsibilities.  If I had kept the painting, I would have then had to continue to pay out our $20,000 insurance premium per annum, and service the bank interest for a number of years to come.
  • Mbantua Gallery has downsized its space over the last few years which has left me no room to display it. It shouldn’t be locked up in storage but needs to be made available for public viewing.
  • Lastly, it was time to be in someone else’s hands. Someone who hopefully will ensure that it is appreciated to the utmost.  So congratulations to Tim Olsen, the new owner.

From the financial view of Mbantua Gallery – after all of our insurances, bank interests and commissions are deducted, we’ll pretty well break even or be a touch in front.

I’ve really enjoyed the experience and the ride of owning Earth’s Creation.  100% of the comments that have been made to me personally over the 10 years that we have owned it have been extremely positive.  So thank you to everyone who appreciated us for “having a go”.

Once again, I thank everyone who has supported myself and my gallery over the years.  It is my intention to continue to work with and to encourage the artists of Utopia for many years to come – God willing.

Lastly, if there are any philanthropists reading this who would be interested in knowing more about our Mbantua Foundation, or getting involved financially or otherwise, please get in contact with me. And don’t forget Ars Musica Foundation – Father Arthur would also love to hear from you and he can be contacted on 0411 289 954.

Regards to all.

Tim

tim.jennings@mbantua.com.au

 

Utopia Bush Trip – 18th May

May 18th 2017 was my last art trip to the Utopia region.  The plan was to take out our Art Manager, Tomoko Kuroda, and get away at a leisurely 8am because we were expecting it to be a relevantly quiet trip.  At about 7:30am I received a phone call from Tomoko saying that she was ill and could I wait until 8:30am because she might be feeling better by then? Of course I said yes but she hadn’t improved!

Sandover Highway - Utopia
Sandover Highway – Utopia

Having packed the vehicle with paints and canvas the night before, I headed out on the 600km journey on my own.  The weather and temperature were fantastic but as per normal the dirt roads were dreadful.  The main road, the Sandover Highway (why it’s called a highway beats me!), can be quite dangerous because it’s easy to get a bit impatient and if you concede to this and sneak a bit of extra speed then you’re sure to hit a heap of bumps and bounce all over the place! So patience is a necessity!

I decided to visit Camel Camp first because I had a large canvas with me painted by Kathleen Ngale.  I collected it on one of my last trips but she was away in hospital so I didn’t get a photograph of her with it.  I had been informed on the grapevine that she was back home at Camel Camp so was hoping to catch up.  Unfortunately, she was ill in bed when I arrived and couldn’t come out.  I asked Motorbike Paddy if I could photograph him with the painting so I could at least have the painting verified that it came from Camel Camp. Motorbike Paddy was happy to do this so our Certificate of Authenticity for this particular painting will have him holding and identifying the painting as Kathleen’s work (this is something I think is pretty important to do in this industry, where possible).  Hopefully Kathleen will make a full recovery and we can revisit a photograph with her!

Motorbike Paddy
Motorbike Paddy

Records approximate Motorbike Paddy’s birth year at 1932 (Kathleen at 1934) which makes him approximately 85 years old now.  He has taken to painting a few small ones himself.  When he asked me for canvas a few weeks ago I said ‘What are you going to paint Motorbike Paddy?’ He said ‘I’m gonna paint my story’.  So I gave him a couple of small canvas and paints.

When I collected them from him I asked him what it was and he replied ‘Bush Plum Story’.  Because he has very limited English “Bush Plum” could mean any of the bush berries, not necessarily what is actually known as the broad leaf bush plum.  I hope in time to determine the correct “Bush Plum”!  Two of Kathleen and Motorbike Paddy’s children, Matthew and Elizabeth Mbitjana, brought their paintings across to me as well.  They also have very limited English.  Matthew has only been painting for us for a couple of months now (although he has done the odd few over the years) and he paints the “Bush Plum story” and his “Country” using fine, irregular dots.  They look quite impressive when stretched and on the wall.

Matthew Mbitjana painting
Matthew Mbitjana painting – MB052096

Elizabeth on the other hand has been painting for us for quite some time and we have a number in stock.  She also paints using quite fine, irregular dots but usually a bit neater than Matthew’s!  I personally think very highly of Elizabeth’s work but unfortunately images don’t seem to do them justice.  Definitely worth seeing first hand!  On this visit to Camel Camp Elizabeth’s latest painting wasn’t completed so am looking forward to seeing it on my next visit!

Katie Kemarre Painting
Katie Kemarre Painting – MB052108

Off to Rocket range next, some 50km’s or so further along the Sandover.  Here I caught up with Carmen Jones, Katie Kemarre, Hazel Morton, Janice Clark, Lily Lion and Kylie Kemarre.  All of our other Rocket Range artists were away in Alice Springs at Batchelor College.  Carmen had some nice small pieces and had also played around with a new design which I really liked.  So she is going to paint some of those for my next visit.  Katie had some nice works too, I particularly liked the two 90x90cm paintings (1 pictured left).

Kylie Kemarre Painting
Kylie Kemarre Painting

She also had quite a few small 30x30cm paintings finished as well and we’ll have some of these up on our website soon!  Hazel had a couple of lovely soft and subtle 90x60cm paintings and Janice a few small 30x30cm’s.  Kylie, who is a magnificent artist but isn’t prolific, had a large 180x120cm linen on the go.  She has completed about 60% so it shouldn’t be too far off!  Right is an image of it so far..

From Rocket Range to Alparra Store next to visit Lena Pwerle and her family.  Lena was away at a meeting but I caught up with Rosie Pwerle, Nora Petyarre and Connie Petyarre.  We had a good yarn – especially about Connie’s recent eye operation.  They were all pretty happy as her sight had improved for the better!

When leaving Lena’s, Angelina Pwerl waved me down on the side of the road.  She told me that she was now living at Alparra (previously she lived at Camel Camp).  She had some great finished Atham-areny paintings that I picked up.  Dorothy Kunoth (born c1953) was also with her and asked for some more canvas for herself.  I’ve known and purchased art from Dorothy for years but her heart doesn’t always seem to be in her work.  So we had a little chat and she did seem really keen so I gave her out some smaller canvas and lots of bright colours.  I’m really looking forward to catching up with her next trip to see what she does!

Angeline Pwerle Ngale - Atham-areny Story
Angeline Pwerle Ngale – Atham-areny Story

Lena Pwerle’s son George and his wife Shirley stopped by and said that they have paintings completed at their camp, Tomahawk Outstation.  So 20 minutes later I was at their home and Shirley had completed some nice work.  She also had some completed Thelma Dixon works too so I paid Shirley for these as well (Thelma was away visiting family).  I gave out more canvas and paints for Shirley and Thelma.  Shirley also asked if I could leave some for her mother, Elsie Dixon, who is currently living on a community outside of Utopia.  I’ve known Elsie for years as well and had no hesitation.  There was also a young lady, Nikita Inkamala, present.  She told me that she was married to Thelma’s son and now living at Tomahawk Outstation. She was very well spoken and interested in what we were doing so I asked her if she’d like to learn to paint?  She was a little bit nervous but said that she would so I gave her out some small canvas and paints as well.  It also turned out that her Dad is Eric Inkamala who I knew about 25 years ago!  He was only a young fella then – how time flies!

From Tomahawk Outstation I headed home – only a short 250km’s away! I bypassed Mulga Bore and Angkula Outstation’s because I was pretty sure our artists there were in Alice Springs.

I reached home about 5:30 that evening – another great bush trip done and dusted.

Tim

 

Adventure To Utopia 23.05.16

I had a wonderful day yesterday.

After over 30 years I really have no idea about the amount of the trips I have done to the Utopia region of the Northern Territory, but yesterday was really special for me.  I took my 15 year old grandson Joel with me.  Yes, he actually wanted to go with his Pop!


We got away about 9am – a bit later than usual because I had a couple of other early commitments to attend to.  On the way out we talked about Aussie Rules football because we’re both diehard Collingwood supporters – yeah I brainwashed him early in his life!  And he is right into the Dream Team footy competition and knows just about every stat on every footballer in the competition – if not all the vast majority!  I loved it because I learnt lots and it might help me in the tipping competition that we have (Joel makes the mistake of always picking Collingwood to win no matter who they play – you don’t win tipping competitions for that loyalty and I learnt that the hard way many years ago!).

As we motored along on this 600km+ “day out” the subject changed to what we were going to do during the day, where we would be going, who we would be seeing and a little knowledge about certain individuals and outstations.  It was important, I thought, to keep it light and interesting.  I also wanted to introduce him to a little about some of the vegetation and how it is important to the aboriginal people.  Again keeping it basic  – to Joel the vegetation was just the bush and pretty boring, so I thought I’d leave the education to just the Mulga trees and Bush Plum shrubs. And I’ll take you readers through the information as well because you may find it interesting.

As we drove along I pointed to a forest of Mulga trees and asked Joel if he knew what the species were. “Trees, Pop” was the answer!  So as we drove along looking at ‘thousands’ of these Mulga trees I chatted about some of the importance these trees have for the aboriginal people who live on these lands. (Joel pointed to an Ironwood tree and tested me by saying “What’s that one Pop?”. Fortunately I knew it and sounded wise!!!!)  They are a hardwood tree and their wood was used to make boomerangs, spears, shields, coolamons (wooden bowls), clap sticks, nulla nullas (clubs), woomeras (spear throwers), dancing/ceremonial sticks, adzes, churingas (sacred boards) and no doubt other bits and pieces.

They [ironwood trees] are a hardwood tree and their wood was used to make boomerangs, spears, shields, coolamons (wooden bowls), clap sticks, nulla nullas (clubs), woomeras (spear throwers), dancing/ceremonial sticks, adzes, churingas (sacred boards) and no doubt other bits and pieces.

Honey ants live under many of them and local aboriginals wander amongst them looking for worker ants.  When they find them they know that the prized honey ants, with swollen abdomens of honey, are not far away and can be dug out of the ground (it really has a yummy flavour!).  The worker ants collect a white sugary substance off the Mulga tree branches called lerp scale that infests lots of these mulga trees, and they take it to the nests where it is stored in the swollen abdomens of other designated ants.  The seeds of the Mulga tree were also collected, roasted and ground into flour in the past.

A mistletoe parasite grows on nearly all the Mulga trees and produces small sticky berries that are also eaten.  (It was Lindsay Bird some 20 years ago that brought me some of these branches with berries to show me that it was his Mulga Seed Dreaming).

Mulga tree apples are also found on Mulga trees.  Usually those trees that grow close to a good water source because they come about by wasps who bore into the branches and lay their eggs.  A gall then forms with the grubs inside it.  Both gall and grubs are then eaten.  Some galls are dreadfully bitter and can’t be eaten but aboriginal people could recognise this, and of course like some other native foods you rely on the bitter test – that is spit it out if you are unsure.

Some galls are dreadfully bitter and can’t be eaten but aboriginal people could recognise this, and of course like some other native foods you rely on the bitter test – that is spit it out if you are unsure.

I decided our first stop should be to visit Lena Pwerle at her bush camp behind the Alparra (Utopia) Store.  This is some 250kms North East of Alice Springs.  Lena had got a message to our art manager, Tomo, that she needed a warm blanket, and I gave in because we also had some other requests for warm jumpers as winter is fast approaching, this is something I don’t do a lot of now because I simply don’t have the room in the car.  But Lena is such a persuasive old soul it’s hard to say no to her and she can twist Tomo around her little finger.

We got to her camp (a bush humpy is her preference) and unloaded the flour and blanket and I introduced Joel and took a photo of the two together.

Lena and Joel
Artist Lena Pwerle and my Grandson, Joel

Something that I wanted to do and Joel responded really well.  I also picked up a painting here from Connie Petyarre but it wasn’t up to her normal standard of very fine work.   Everyone there said that her eyes were going on her (Connie is really shy).  I made a mental note to bring out a selection of glasses for her on the next trip.

Rosie Pwerle who is about the same age as Lena I would guess, also lives here but was away at the time.  Apart from paintings, Rosie keeps herself busy by making small native wooden carvings and bead necklaces.  She brought some into town a week or so ago and I just loved them!

Rosie and her sculptures
Rosie Pwerle with her beautiful carvings

We then drove on to Rocket Range camp and were quite busy for about an hour or more.  I introduced Joel and asked if he could take a few photos and they all said yes but he was a bit shy here as it was all new to him.  We collected some nice paintings from Carmen Jones, Katie Kemarre, Hazel Morton, Kylie Kemarre, and Michelle and Lily Lion, and gave out new canvasses and paints.

Soapy Bore, some 20km away was our next stop, where we also collected a nice array of paintings from Loretta Jones, Dorothy and Jilly Jones and also May Lewis .  I was really happy with a painting by Loretta Jones and also some extremely fine dot work from Dorothy Jones.  Lots of other non-artists and kids came around the car as well and love to interact while we’re there.  We then said goodbye to Soapy Bore and drove to the turnoff to Kurrajong Outstation because we had received word that Violet Payne would be there.  However she wasn’t, so we drove slowly past Alparra Store which was not far away.  Still no sign of Violet so we headed off to Camel Camp via Tomahawk Outstation.

There was no one at Tomahawk so we arrived at Camel Camp some 10 minutes later.  There we were met by Angelina Ngale, Glady Kemarre, Matthew Mbitjane, Kathleen Ngale, Polly Ngale and a few other people.  I introduced Joel to them and said he was Terri’s oldest child (They know Terri who often comes with me).  They all started talking in their language and broken English about him with big smiles on their faces.  I know it was very welcoming.

They all started talking in their language and broken English about him with big smiles on their faces.  I know it was very welcoming.

Glady had a couple of small carvings that I really loved – very unique and I have never seen them done in this way before.  Matthew had a 90x90cm painting in a very similar style to his sister, Elizabeth.  Very naïve and didn’t adhere to being painted evenly to the borders of the canvas.  I think it will look really good when stretched (as do Elizabeth’s) and will appeal to that person who isn’t looking for conformity.

Matthew was extremely talkative and happy (as he usually is) but hard to understand as his English is very limited.  Joel asked me “How do you understand them Pop?”.  I replied that I have developed an ear for it over the years, but even then I miss a lot!  Polly Ngale had a few small to medium paintings and she talks at 100 miles per hour. I must admit I don’t comprehend a lot of that.  (But there is usually someone who can interpret for me.)  We were quite busy there spending a fair bit of time just engaging.  They all have a good sense of humour – Glady has a really dry sense of humour and a wicked laugh!

After leaving them it was time to head home and my arithmetic was saying probably about 6:30/45 before getting Joel back home to his mother and father.  However, just after leaving Camel Camp, Violet Payne and about 6 of her family found us and waved us down.  They had lots of paintings which we processed and one 180x60cm by Laura Payne – Violet’s youngest sister.  We had a big laugh because Laura has had the canvas for about 2 years and I always tease her how she’s going with it and we get a laugh out if it because we both know it’s still in the ‘too hard basket’.

We had a big laugh because Laura has had the canvas for about 2 years and I always tease her how she’s going with it.  We get a laugh out if it because we both know it’s still in the ‘too hard basket’.

Anyway, here in the middle of nowhere next to the dry Sandover River out it comes – all finished! And she laughed and laughed (and so did I!).  And it was good!! She had done a larger one of this style once before and I thought it was something really special with her own ‘ownership’ stamped on it.

They also had some of their mum and dad’s, Harold Payne and Doreen Payne’s, paintings which I also paid them for.  I had also forgotten why Harold sometimes had white (or cream) and black bird symbols on his paintings and asked to be refreshed on it.  I was told that in mythological times the little bird (a native pigeon) landed on the Bush Plum Tree with the fruit was still unripe.  It then walked onto the clusters of berries which then turned black and were ready to eat.

SP5482
Harold Payne’s painting that depicts a pigeon walking over ripening fruit on the Bush Plum Tree

After giving out more canvas and paints they got in their cars and turned for home, as did we.  They were all waving from their windows and it gave Joel and me a really nice feeling.  And it also related to Harold Payne’s story that I mentioned earlier.

This put us another 40 minutes behind our ‘home schedule’, but that was fine.  Off we went and Joel fell asleep (I might have too if I wasn’t driving!).  After about 100km I stopped on the side of the road and showed Joel a Bush Plum Tree and explained a little about that.

Joel turns 16 this year and can get his driver’s licence then, so I threw him the keys to do a little driving on some dirt tracks – and yes he was a model student! Having driven hundreds of thousands of kilometres on Territory dirt roads I instilled a few rules and subtle advice.  We both survived and Joel had one of his first bush road lessons.

Joel turns 16 this year and can get his driver’s licence then, so I threw him the keys to do a little driving on some dirt tracks – and yes he was a model student!

It was after 7pm when we arrived home, but when we were some about 50kms from home I asked Joel to give me 3 negatives about the day.  He said the distance we had to travel from home to the first Outstation (about 270km), and he also incorporated the time actually driving over the bumpy roads – he couldn’t think of a third negative which was good!  I then asked him to give me 3 positives and he stated “the trees”.  I had to ask him what he meant by this and he elaborated that he meant learning about the Mulga trees and Bush Plums.  He also liked the “driving” and I replied that he just gave this as a negative!  He clarified that he meant HIM driving!  His third positive of the day was that he liked how we “got the art”.  I added 3 more to his list of positives – meeting lots of aboriginal people in their home environment, seeing an enthusiastic side of their personality expressed in their native language, and of course, spending time with Pop.

That’s all from me on this latest of bush trips.  Good night everyone.

-Tim


stay tuned for more exciting insights on tim’s blog