Desert Country


Take a walkabout through the vast and varied Australian artistic landscapes with the people who know it best—the Aboriginal artists. The exhibition Desert Country takes the viewer on a journey that follows the development of contemporary Aboriginal painting from Albert Namatjira to the present. The works are sourced entirely from the holdings of the Art Gallery of South Australia–the first Australian cultural institution to acquire work by an indigenous artist.

Desert Country is the first exhibition that charts the forty year evolution of the internationally acclaimed Australian desert painting movement, and to demonstrate the unstoppable reaches of this remarkable art movement. The exhibit includes the works of Australia’s most recognized aboriginal painter Albert Namatjira, whose work formed the foundations of contemporary Indigenous Australian art. Best known for his watercolors of the Australian outback desert landscapes, Namatjira’s style inspired the Hermannsburg School of Aboriginal art. His work reflects his life and experiences, yet his paintings are not in the highly symbolic style of traditional Aboriginal art; they are richly detailed depictions executed in the traditional western landscape style.

Namtjira’s work is followed with rare examples of the first experimental paintings by its ground-breaking masters in 1971, Desert Country highlights the cultural fluidity between the principal Aboriginal art producing regions of the desert in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia.

Also from the Hermannsburg school is Otto Pareeroultja, whose paintings follow the tribal mythology of the Totemic ancestor spirits. His intriguing ‘Totemic Landscape’ synthesizes traditional watercolor practice with the inclusion of repetitive decorative pattern through the inclusion of line and dot; as well as the dot paintings of the western desert and the ochre paintings of the Warmun. The works all have narrative themes in common as well as strong roots in country. Pareeroutlja’s paintings are predominately images of Sacred Sites where the tribe held totemic ceremonies, and held secret and sacred ceremonies that only initiated men.

Known for working with several mediums such as acrylic, lino prints, screen printing on garments, silk printing, basket weaving and sketching, Lynette Corby Nungurray creates a blend of color that adds depth and dimension to her work, creating an almost 3-D effect. Her Women’s Meeting Place is almost kantha-like in the use of pattern and texture whereas the late Doreen Reid Nakamarra’s , Rockholes at Marrrapinti fairly shimmers before the eyes. Dorothy Robinson Napangardi’s, Salt on Mina Mina, in crisp white on black, is so sharp it cuts. Also intriguing is Margaret Turner Apetyarr’s, Bush Orange Dreaming, lace-like edges and a scalloped pattern to the dots is reminiscent of a knitted shawl.

The exhibit culminates with powerful paintings from Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands of far northwest South Australia by some of Australia’s most outstanding contemporary artists such as Maringka Baker, Nura Rupert, Kunmanara Jimmy Baker and Tjungkara Ken.

Desert Country runs until January 26, 2011. For more information, please visit