Above: Ikuntji’s Christine Multa with two of her screenprints on show at Tangentyere Artists Gallery.
By KIERAN FINNANE
Christine Multa started out at Ikuntji Artists as an arts worker, supporting the work of others. She is now emerging as an artist in her own right and taking advantage of the opportunities that come her way.
The quietly spoken Multa is one of six central Australian artists to have taken part in a two week residency in Sydney with Cicada Press, a printmaking studio associated with the Art & Design school of the University of New South Wales (UNSW).
The artists used a range of print-making techniques to reinterpret, more than simply reproduce, original art works. Thus Multa’s well-known colour photograph, My grandmother went hunting, which won the Desart Art Worker Photography Prize in 2014, has been subtly transformed as a photo etching. The colour has been dropped out and its fine detail heightened in an orchestration of greys, light and dark, particularly suited to the almost leafless woodland seeming to close in around her grandmother’s figure.
Another photograph taken in this same woodland, where a woman, Alison, is cutting a tree to make a nulla nulla, is treated differently, as a screenprint. Again the colour of the original has been dropped out, but the technique has allowed Multa to highlight in purple the skirt Alison is wearing. What does that do to the way we read the image? While her grandmother’s figure seems to have been absorbed into the landscape by the photo etching process, Alison’s figure stands out from it. This heightens the sense that, having harvested her wood, she will move through the copse of trees towards the sunlit patch of ground beyond.
Two artists from Iwantja Arts, based at Indulkana in the NPY Lands, took part in the residency. David Frank used etching and aquatint to present his enigmatic storyboards. Two of the images draw on memories of his 15 year career with the South Australian police force, while a third tells “Jesus stories”. This print technique seems ideally suited to Frank’s finely drawn, well-observed figures presented on a black ground. Colour, as used in Police Training (at bottom) and Police Car, helps in picking out the detail, especially of darkest-skinned figures, which almost disappear in the black and white Jesus Stories.
Vincent Namatjira (at right) shows an unsuspected drawing talent with Portrait of Albert (the illustrious painter, his grandfather), rendered as a sepia-toned etching and aquatint. I commented to him on this at the exhibition opening.
“I’m a better sketcher than painter,” he said.
Yet he seems to prefer painting, why?
“Tradition,” he said.
His screenprinted Self Portrait reflects his loose, gestural painting style. Here likeness is not a concern (in contrast with Portrait of Albert); he is more interested in mood – beaming and confident – and elan. The shirt on its own is a lovely bit of gestural abstraction.
His work Indulkana Tigers takes the etching and aquatint technique away from the realist detail of Portrait of Albert. The figures of the footy players are more cartoon-like, with an emphasis on their long legs, good for running. The group is crowded together right at the front of the picture plane, with one of them cut off at its edge – they’re ready for action. As with the shirt in his Self Portrait the artist again shows his delight in pattern and colour, playing the black and yellow stripes of their uniforms across the surface.
I’m mentioning only some of the standout images from this small but strong selling exhibition showing at Tangentyere Artists Gallery in Fogarty Street until June 12. The other artists are Louise Daniel (Tangentyere Artists), Robert Fielding (Mimili Maku), and Rhonda Dick (Tjala). The prints are also being shown concurrently in Sydney as part of an exhibition titled We are in Wonder LAND: new experimental art from Central Australia, accompanied by a day-long symposium on May 15. As with the printmaking residency, this is an initiative of a partnership between Desart and the National Institute of Experimental Art at UNSW. Desart and NIEA have previously conducted symposia on experimental arts in Alice Springs under the title Same but Different.
The Wonder LAND exhibition, showing at UNSW Galleries, will include work from over 30 desert artists from 18 art centres, including Ngurratjuta Iltja Ntjarra – Many Hands. Their display features samples from a series of circular landscape paintings that have been reinterpreted as wearable art in the form of circle skirts. Alice Springs, however, gets to see the complete project at RAFT Artspace, opening this Friday. All of the original paintings will be shown together with an installation of all of the skirts.
Among other current outings for desert artists, David Frank will have his first solo show opening at Alcaston Gallery in Melbourne tomorrow, while artists from Ampiltwatja and Keringke are getting ready to travel to Korea with Desart CEO Philip Watkins for an exhibition of their and other art centres’ works opening there.
On the first of the Same but Different symposia:
Good men, like good eagles, bring the meat home
Winds to stoke the fire of who you are
On Iwantaja Arts’ showing at last year’s Desert Mob:
This is who we are