Eileen Yaritja Stevens (c.1919-2008) was a powerful woman in life and in art; her brushes carved and jabbed paint into the canvas as she sang the tjukurrpa associated with her paintings. Confident of her knowledge and standing, she dispensed with decorative embellishments. Her vision was bold, defiant and jubilant.
She is at heart a painter's painter; she paints for those who know and understand, and if they cannot understand the cultural basis of her work, then at least they connect with the force of her artistic expression. Stevens had an innate sense that her authority and mastery of medium were indisputable, and she excuted both with confidence and spirit. She was a formidable force in the community and studio, and while she could be fearsome if wronged, she was known for her wisdom, humour and warmth.
Stevens was one of the founding painters of Tjungu Palya, along with her peers Nyankulya Watson, Wingu Tingima, Kuntjil Cooper and Jimmy Baker – now all deceased. She ranks as one of the most important artists from this region. Stevens’ son, Keith Stevens, is now the most senior man in Nyapari and an artist at Tjungu Palya. When she died in February 2008 at the age of 89, she was still singing and painting with a passion and energy.