Artists / Kathleen Petyarre

Artist:      Kathleen Petyarre

Born:        c. 1940

Language:    Anmatyerre

Country:     Atnangkere,NT

Dreamings:   Women Hunting, Emu, Dingo (atnangkerre), Bush Seeds (ntang), Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming or Thorny Devil Lizard (arnkerrth),

Kathleen Petyarre has become one of Australia’s most well-known Aboriginal women painters and has won several major competitions and no important Aboriginal art collection is complete without work from this iconic artists.  She was a founding artist of the very early Batik painting movement in Utopia along with her sisters, and then moved into painting on canvas and linen when the modern Aboriginal art movement began in the late 1980’s.

Kathleen was born circa 1940, at the remote location of Atnangkere, an important water soakage for Aboriginal people on the western boundary of Utopia Station, 250 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia.  Kathleen belongs to the Alyawarre / Eastern Anmatyerre clan and speaksEastern Anmatyerre, with English as her second language.   

Kathleen's mother and seven sisters held onto their land near Utopia Station as a group, establishing a camp at Atneftyeye - Boundary Bore. Kathleen was one of the key Anmatyerre women involved in the successful claim for the freehold title, which led to the 1979 formal hand-over of the Utopia pastoral lease back to its traditional owners. She is now settled there with her daughter, Margaret, and her sister's. She also spends part of the year at her residence in Adelaide.

Kathleen's inherited Dreaming stories from her paternal grandmother and all of her paintings directly refer to country around Utopia in the eastern central desert ofAustralia. She demonstrates her detailed and accurate knowledge of, and respect for, her country through her remarkable paintings.  Petyarre’s finely dotted, linear abstracted maps include those based on the representation of the Mountain or Thorny Devil Lizard (arnkerrth) and the land through which Aboriginal people believe that this creation ancestor traveled.  She often also depicts the soakages and bores which dot this large tract of land.

Although she was present at the beginning of the painting movement and had been collected as an emerging artist, her career really blossomed after winning the Telstra’s (NATSIAA) in 1996 with a painting called Storm in Atnangkere Country.  Since 1998, her work has become known for a more minimalist style – restrained dotting all over in rigid graphic patterns.

Kathleen’s considerable reputation as one of the most original indigenous artists has since been confirmed nationally and internationally by her regular inclusion in exhibitions at the most reputed museums and galleries. A book about her art, ‘ ‘Genius of Place’ ‘, was published in 2001 in conjunction with a solo exhibition of her works at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, and her paintings can be found in public and private collections all over the world. Her work has been selected, along with just a handful of Aboriginal artists, for inclusion in the permanent collection of the new Musée du quai Branly in Paris.

Kathleen Petyarre is one of the most sought-after living Aboriginal artists. She has been repeatedly nominated by the influential journal Australian Art Collector as being among ‘the 50 most collectable artists in Australia’. Her works consistently show the highest degree of innovation and are in the greatest demand, and they tend to fetch the highest prices at auctions.

Kathleen is the niece of great Aboriginal artist, the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye.




About the Petyarre Sisters:

The Petyarre sisters stand unique as a group of women who have, as a family, dominated women’s art inAustraliafor two decades. 

“The seven Petyarre sisters of the Utopia area of Central Australiahave, since the early 1990’s, all become painters of significance.  Some are full- and others half-sisters, with four different mothers and one father.  They are Ada Bird (b.1930), Myrtle (b. c.1932) Nancy(b. 1934), Violet (b. 1938), Gloria (b. 1945), Kathleen (b. 1940), Jean (b. c. 1950) and Rosemary Petyarre (b. 1965).  The Petyarre sisters share the same dreaming of the Mountain or Thorny Devil Lizard (arnkerrth) – the patterns and colours of which change as camouflage, depending on the background patterns of its environment.  The sisters are thus able to depict myriad designs, all under this dreaming which they interpret along with others based on awelye (women’s body design) and a large variety of bush foods and other subjects.  The works of all the sisters were shown together for the first time in Seven Sisters Petyarre, Brisbane City Gallery, 2002).”

Source:  The New McCullochs Encyclopedia of Australian Art, Section Australian Aboriginal Art and Artists, (page 132,) Petyarre Sisters:  by Alan McCulloch, Susan McCulloch, Emily McCulloch Childs.

Jive Art Update: AdaBird Petyarre passed away in July 2009.  In November 2009 Nancy Petyarre also passed away.

Following Article was reprinted from Artlink – a review by critic Kiersten Fishburn.

Genius of Place: The Work of Kathleen Petyarre

Kiersten Fishburn, review

9 May – 22 July 2001
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

It is both a rare and delightful experience to enter a gallery of contemporary art and immediately be transported into a space of contemplation. Genius of Place: The work of Kathleen Petyarre has that power. It is not without cause that Petyarre has been compared to Turner or Rothko; there is the same complexity through restraint and reduction, an extraordinary understanding of colour, a real lyricism to her painting and the sense of capturing the almost visionary. But Petyarre also speaks to us of her unique experience as an indigenous Australian woman, exploring her heritage and her land. The vision that Petyarre gives us is not a universal one, but it resonates in a way that almost seems to embrace the viewer into her dense patterning. So this is a generous art as well, allowing us to turn our contemplation inward as well as out; we are transfigured not just into the ethereal, but also, and firmly, into a distinctive experience of land.
Kathleen Petyarre explores her Dreaming narrative of Arnkerrth, the Thorny Devil Lizard or Old Woman Mountain Devil. The Arnkerrth Dreaming is the dreaming of the Atnangker country and in her painting Petyarre shows us how the Dreaming, Arnkerrth, and the land, Atnangker, are intimately, inseparably, connected. Through the movements of Arnkerrth, movements expressed both spatially and temporally, the land is shaped and defined. As a custodian of the Arnkerrth Dreaming, Petyarre has permission to represent her dreaming ancestor and through her art she creates a sense of timelessness; Arnkerrth walks still, endlessly mapping, marking and indeed delineating the landscape.
There are many possible ways to reproduce a landscape – as map, photograph, impression. There are even more ways of remembering or seeing a space; it shifts in time, through experience, through the filter of memory. It may be felt more than seen; densely populated with occurrence, ritual and rhythm. It is this type of landscape – heavy with collective and individual memory – that Petyarre alludes to. As her paintings shift in focus, from detail to whole, and through time, as seasons shift, after hailstorms or sandstorms, so we are gifted with a fullness of experience marked and shaped by the movements of the Mountain Devil Lizard and Petyarre's careful use of rhythm and repetition. It is as though the deliberate layering of paint that is Petyarre's technique (done with, in a lovely multicultural touch, satay sticks) also echoes and nods at the layering of meaning and the temporal in her land.
It may seem to us at first that meaning, the shape of these works, is elusive. Are we looking at a map, a representation, a story, a memory? Yes, and more. Petyarre's paintings have something of the imprint about them. As she imprints on canvas, so her paintings seem almost like an after-image, an imprint, when we close our eyes and remember a space so well known that we can no longer represent it without a multiplicity of experiences and meanings pressing and layering on the image as well. In some ways when thinking about Petyarre's art it seems easier to construct a set of binaries. Simple, yet also complex and full of depth; subtle yet vibrant, her art employs the traditional yet is simultaneously absolutely contemporary; representational and abstract, repetitive yet also richly diverse. It is in the slippage between these binaries that Petyarre's work and her skills are located.
This is highlighted by the thoughtful hang in the upper gallery of the MCA. It allows us to see a chronological development of her work from early batiks to her current, breathtaking, paintings, and the on-going exploration of her Dreaming heritage. We can view the exhibition as a whole, take in the connections between her works, watch the landscape ebb and flow from close-up to distance. We can follow the tracks of Arnkerrth or the fall of bush seeds. Or we can focus on a single work with its commanding presence on the wall and journey through the layers of meaning that it contains.
Genius of Place is both an intelligent and beautiful exhibition, and while the idea of beauty might be somewhat out of currency in the contemporary arts, there is simply no word more apt. The opportunity to see Petyarre become more assured in her style as it is refined and strengthened (even through the claims of fraud that her career has had to weather), and to be absorbed into the many dimensions of Atnangker country, is to witness one of our foremost artists: a woman in absolute command of her skills and vision.

Source: Artlink website.


Mountain Devil Lizard 2012 by Kathleen Petyarre

Mountain Devil Lizard

Acrylic on Belgian Linen

91 x 91 cm


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Mountain Devil Lizard 2009 by Kathleen Petyarre

Mountain Devil Lizard

Acrylic on Belgian Linen

122 x 122 cm


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