A group exhibition of recent paintings by Nyarapayi GILES, Neil MAXWELL, Katjarra BUTLER, Bob GIBSON, Annie FARMER, Valmayi NAMPINTJINPA, Wanatjura BELL, Bonnie CONNELLY, Elsa Fiona YOUNG, Patricia ORGULA, Eileen GILES & Kelly PETERMAN.
"I never wanted color to be color. I never wanted texture to be texture, or images to become shapes. I wanted them all to fuse together into a living spirit." - Clyfford Still
Deep within one of the most remote communities in Australia, artists at Tjarlirli Art, led by Aboriginal elder Nyarapayi Giles, create paintings in a manner similar to Clyfford Still’s approach of fusing colour, texture and image into a living spirit. It is the very reason for each and every painting in the Living Spirit exhibition. And like Still, their works consider the grand themes of creation, life, survival and death.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Abstract Expressionism and Colour Field painting began to eschew the figurative in pursuit of a purer form of painting that was able to express emotion and spirituality freed from literal representation. Artists like Still, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman saw colour stripped of form as a way of expressing the intangible; their works contained allusions to ancient mythologies, religion and the subconscious. Their compositions often read as abstract landscapes, but the artists’ intent was often more a distillation of the physical, intellectual and spiritual realms combined. These were meditative pieces that encouraged transcendence of the everyday to a connection with our higher selves.
Across the ocean, Aboriginal artists were already fully steeped in an ancient tradition of abstract spiritual, intellectual and physical expression that is still routinely practiced through remote areas. Paint applied to dancers’ bodies is designed to shift thought and emotions away from earthly concerns so that participants can connect with the higher spiritual plane. From this space come true insight and understanding, and transcendence.
The introduction of acrylic paints to the desert regions in the 1970s gave artists access to a limitless palette, which in turn fuelled every-increasing experiments with colour and compositional abstraction. Their artistic rationale is, as it always was, inspired by timeless narratives of ancestor spirits and the human condition. Tjarlirli artists’ works are performative by nature, where each colour, texture and image acts out a part of the larger narrative. This is true of all the artists in this exhibition, from senior artists Nyarapayi Giles and Katjarra Butler through to new emerging painters Valmayi Nampitjinpa and Bonnie Connelly.
The spirit dwells deep within every painting and is inseparable from the act of painting and the lives of the artists: it is eternal.