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Kathleen Petyarre

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Time Magazines’s art critic, Michael Fitzgerald said, “Petyarre's dotted fields of ocher-red and hailstorm-white conjure up the sensation a passenger might feel in a light plane swooping in to land… they create an effect of spiritual uplift and endlessly eddying space. And infusing much of the work—suggested by a circular dance of footprints here, a cloud of dust there—is the ephemeral presence of Petyarre's custodial totem, the thorny or mountain devil lizard, arnkerrth-a tiny, miraculous creature adept at the art of camouflage and survival.” 


Petyarre’s evocative paintings have often been compared to those of rigorous minimal modern artists as varied as Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, and Agnes Martin, not formally, as much as in the tension between what remains hidden within her fields of shimmering dots and what is subtly revealed. “Her paintings are ‘mental maps’ of the ancestral lands she traveled as a child,” says Christine Nicholls co-author of the monograph on Kathleen’s work, "the dotting is actually overlaying sacred areas, protecting them from the predatory gaze."



 Kathleen Petyarre's Dreaming Ancestor Arnkerrth, the Mountain Devil Lizard 















Arnkerrth, the journey woman, the Dreaming Ancestor, is glimpsed sometimes as a trick of the surface, sometimes as a presence sensed or felt by the viewer rather than actually seen. Arnkerrth’s tracks, as she makes her way through the harsh desert conditions, become a whirling vortex. The powerfully suggestive layering effect is almost certainly a byproduct of Kathleen's earlier familiarity with body painting and with the technically demanding methods of batik. Petyarre has brought the subtlety of a refined minimal aesthetic to her paintings and like her Auntie Emily Kngwarreye pushed the envelop of stylistic boundaries.


To understand the interrelationships of Kathleen’s Arnkerrth Dreaming paintings, imagine a large jigsaw puzzle made up of the 200 plus square kilometers of Atnangker country. Sometimes Petyarre re-creates the entire expanse of Atnangker country — ‘the big picture,’ or ‘the whole lot’ — but at other times she focuses on localised sites of significance within that whole, For example, she sometimes paints an entire canvas devoted to an important rockhole, or a creek bed visited by Arnkerrth in her traveling, or a row of trees on her country that signify underground water, or women’s ‘business’ sites. Petyarre captures the sense of mosaic diversity that exists within the larger aggregate system — Atnangker country as a whole-with extraordinary grace, skill and virtuosity.



All Work by Kathleen Petyarre

  • Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming (Sandstorm)

    Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming (Sandstorm)

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