Utopia Trip May 2018

Back in early May with a thermos of homemade soup and a few cold slices of homemade pizza on board for lunch, I headed out through the hills north of Alice Springs enroute to the Utopia Region.  It was 7.35am, the car was loaded with canvas and paint, the sun was up and it was 16 degrees Celsius.   Weather wise, it looked like it was going to be a perfect day – and it was!

There were quite a few people that I wanted to catch up with, both from an art point of view and also just to have a yarn with.   The trip out was fairly uneventful, although at the 200km mark, near to the turnoff to Mulga Bore, I could see lots of thick dust and a big truck was heading my way.  The wind was non-existent so the dust just sat there with nothing to blow it away.   This can be very dangerous if there is some impatient driver behind the truck who takes a punt by blindly passing through the dust.   So, I always pull over to the side of the road just in case!!

At 9.30am I arrived at Camel Camp and saw old Motorbike Paddy.   He’s a wonderful old gentleman and we always have a few laughs.  I asked him how his wife, Kathleen Ngale, was.  He replied “she’s good” and didn’t elaborate any further….   I know that the last time I was out there she was sitting out the front and appeared in good spirits but she was inside on this occasion.   He said that his daughter Elizabeth was over at the Store (30kms away) and had a painting that was finished.  His son, Matthew, came across too and was his normal, talkative self – a really nice fellow but very hard to understand because his English is very, very limited.

I didn’t stay there too long before heading to nearby Tomahawk Outstation where the Dixon family often reside.   There was no one there though so I headed to Alparre Store and found Lena Pwerle in her humpy up the back of the community along with Rosie Pwerle and Nora Petyarre.   I dropped off a box of groceries and a drum of flour to Lena.  (Our long-time art manager, Tomoko Kuroda, dotes on Lena and insisted that I take them out for her!!!   😊 😊)  I sat down on an old flour drum and had a good chat to them all, along with Lena’s oldest son George.  George’s wife, Shirley, and sister, Thelma Dixon, were also close by and asked me for some canvas and paints, which I gave out to them both.

A bunch of young and middle-aged men also wanted to have a talk to me about artefacts and I was happy to have a yarn.  I’m always encouraging them to make boomerangs, woomera’s, spears, carvings and other artefacts, but usually the chit chat enthusiasm doesn’t evolve into actually doing much of it – although sometimes they surprise me.

I was just about to leave the area when Polly Ngale and Elizabeth Mbitjana also visited.  Both told me that they had finished the canvases that I gave them last trip, but they were at Camel Camp!   So I told them that I would revisit Camel Camp after I had called into all the other places I was planning to head to.

Next stop was an Outstation I refer to as Old Quartpot’s Camp.    On arrival, I went directly around to Lily and Michelle Lion’s campsite, which is directly opposite to the Hunter ladies humpies.   Teresa Purla also walked across from her home as well and gave me a good hand.   All of these ladies are family to Teresa and she encourages them all to have a go.  Geyla Pwerle wandered across carrying a box with 10 – 30cm x 30cm completed linens.  They were very good for an old lady and she is really happy doing them.   Molly didn’t come across but had also had 10 – 30 x 30’s finished – nice little circle ones.  I later photographed her with them in her humpy.   (I checked our old records when back in Alice Springs and her date of birth is guessed at 1928 – so she’s roughly 90 years of age now.)  I must say, she appears in good health, both physically and mentally for someone that age.

Michelle and Lily also had some great little camp scene paintings too.  These are fantastic paintings and I know the ladies enjoy painting them but having said that, I do like to encourage them have a go at other ideas and concepts.  I asked them to think of some other design to play around with.  They wanted some direction, so I suggested maybe mixing up some larger dots with smaller dots and use lots of bright colours, something that they can enjoy and be creative with.  Teresa emphasised the same..  So I am looking forward to my next trip because one never knows what these ladies might be achieve.

Michelle Lion holding up 2 of her Camp Scene paintings.

Teresa also made the point that Geyla and Molly love painting the canvases that I leave with them.  It gives them something constructive to do and it was clear to me that the looks on their faces reflected just that.  I’m not sure how the paintings will sell but I feel sure that there will be people out there in this big world of ours that will come along and appreciate them. 

I have saved four of each for Mbantua’s permanent collection.

Molly Pwerle Aboriginal Artist
Molly Pwerle holding her painting.

Queenie Kemarre, Michelle Lion, Lily LionQueenie Kemarre (Lily and Michelle’s mother) actually walked across to the car to say hello too!  On most of my visits Queenie is sitting or lying down in her bush shelter.  This was the first time for a very long time that she had walked across to the car and I was really quite stoked.  I insisted that we take a photograph of mum and her two daughters and they were really happy to have it taken!

 

Queenie with her daughters, Michelle and Lily Lion.

Jessie and Susan Hunter also had some really nice completed pieces.  Teresa is a terrific artist in her own right too, but didn’t have hers finished.

I took lots of photographs and Teresa also used my camera and took some of me with the ladies.  I enjoyed my time there, except for the millions of flies which were horrendous!!

Angelina Ngale Aboriginal artist
Angelina Ngale with two younger family members.

Rocket Range was my next stop.  Most people were away and I only collected paintings from Angelina Ngale.

Soapy Bore was next and also very quiet – just a few paintings from Dorothy Jones.  So I headed back to Camel Camp, some 40kms away, and collected 3 nice paintings by Polly and a really lovely 150cm x 90cm painting from Elizabeth.

 

 

I departed Camel Camp for home at 3.07pm – I had a social game of lawn bowls to play that night!!   😊 😊

Tim

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

 

Emily Kame Kngwarreye – Early Days

Emily Kame Kngwarreye
Emily Kame Kngwarreye

There’s been much written on Emily Kame Kngwarreye – a number of books in fact.  Her works have been exhibited all over the world! Compared alongside Monet! A genius!

I knew Emily before she ever became famous, way back in 1986/87.  We gave her  two pieces of canvas, around the 90 x 90cm size, when we were in the early stages of collecting paintings ourselves.  The paintings came back with some basic women U shapes and digging sticks.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  We sold one for a very modest price (probably around the $300 mark) and for some inexplicable reason I decided to keep the other – and I still have it! It is one of Emily’s very first paintings on canvas and is now in the Mbantua permanent collection.  I have no recollection of ever seeing another Emily painting with symbols in them.

Emily Kame Kngwarrye - MB000412
Emily Kame Kngwarreye – MB000412

During this period in time my main focus was my business – Mbantua Store.  Art was a side interest as the running of the business was 12 hours a day and I also had a very young, growing family.

Barbara Weir, who had become a good friend during that era, used to tell me all the time to get Emily to paint for us but I resisted for quite some time because of other work demands and I honestly had little appreciation for the paintings. I was very much old school – I liked neat and tidy dot work or landscapes – and I didn’t change overnight even though Barbara finally convinced me to buy paintings from Emily and I also had a wholesale market for them.

I can’t quite pin point the time I changed but it was a few years later, after Barbara had regularly told me that the paintings represented everything, that my daughter Dale Jennings and I got together and started staring into the paintings and questioned each other as to what we saw.  That was the beginning of my comprehension!  (Yes, I am a bit slow at times, I know!).  And shortly after that I was with a fairly prominent art journalist looking at a couple of Emily paintings that were lack-lustre browns, blacks and creams (and this journalist said words to the effect of ‘Emily did paint some pretty ordinary works at times!’).

Emily Kame Kngwarreye - MB007739
Emily Kame Kngwarreye with painting MB007739

This was something that I would have agreed to prior to my enlightening – the paintings in reference were not cosmetically beautiful to the eye – but I had to come to their defence!  Over the 30 plus years of traveling regularly to Emily’s lands of Utopia I have seen the countryside in drought many, many times.  The colours of the land are reminiscent of these paintings; dead or no grass… various tones of browns and mustard yellows… blacks from fire ravaged mulga forests… dust… flies by the trillions… ‘Stare into the paintings’ I told the journalist, ‘Free your mind’.  She didn’t.  Or certainly didn’t acknowledge that she did!  But that had been me not long before!

I certainly changed, so much so that I built a small but modest sized museum where we dedicated about 25% of its room to Emily paintings and to photographs that Dale and I visualised in her paintings.  I also bought Earth’s Creation at auction in 2007 for over $1 million and put that on display in the museum.

Earth’s Creation by Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Earth’s Creation has since been on exhibition in Japan, the Australian National Museum in Canberra, Parliament House in Darwin and, of recent, spent a few months in Venice, Italy, at the Venice Biennale.  A couple of years ago it was independently valued at $4 million.  So there are many more people out there in the world that have had my “enlightening”, and probably much quicker off the mark than myself!

And I am glad – not from the point of view of valuation – but that I was able to see what others could see and, ultra-importantly, what Emily could see and what she was able to accomplish coming from a completely different upbringing, culture and worldliness than I have.

Tim