Yukultji Napangati

31 May - 21 June 2014

exhibition essay

Yukultji Napangati:
Powerful painting for powerful places

The breadth, remoteness and grandeur of the western desert has been a forceful subject for many Pintupi artists. This tough land is the arena for the travels and deeds of the ancestors, the stories and songs that capture their journeys give shape to the land and meaning to its fabric.

No wonder that so many Pintupi artists have used this as the substance for their paintings. Great painters like Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Ronnie Tjampitjinpa and George Tjungurrayi have found their own unique ways to capture the subtlety and the drama in their work.

Yukultji Napangati grew up in this vast land and until 1984, when as a young girl she walked into Kiwirrkurra with a group of family members, was unknowing of what lay beyond it.

It was not until 1996 that Yukultji began painting, slowly finding her own voice, and making an impression with her organic fields of linear pattern. In 2005 she was included in Primavera at the Museum of Contemporary Art. She made an impact with a group of assured canvasses.

It is thus surprising that it is only now we are able to see a defining solo exhibition of her latest work, which captures the range and development of her oeuvre.

In recent years shimmering surfaces have defined her work. The picture plane is covered with linear pattern, overlaid with bands of fine dots in two shades, the effect of which is to energise the canvas; the linear pattern directing the eye one way, while the horizontall dotted bands pull it the other. Add to this the touches of undercolour peeping through and the visual intensity is taken another step.

It's hard to focus on some of these works, like a heat haze, or a mirage, the surfaces shift and play. The smaller works are most at ease, but as the scale increases the fields build in drama and energy.

The new development in her work has been the appearance of other elements entering the picture plane. In some, more traditional forms appear and are incorporated into the field. In others, larger organic elements enter the picture plane with a more direct force, in some cases injecting their own energy into the composition, animating the surface
in response to their presence. Such insertions give real focus, attention and drama to the canvases.

In these paintings, the power of small places in vast space is addressed. Yukultji is referring to places that are important to her, thinking about them from her studio in Kiwirrkurra. The force they exert is captured in her painting. One place is Yunala, a rockhole and soakage water site situated amongst sandhills to the west of Kiwirrkurra. Another place is Marrapinti, west of the Pollock Hills.

When documenting her paintings, Yukultji refers to natural landforms like sandhills and rockholes at these sites, to edible vegetation such as the yunala tuber and the roots of the bush banana or silk pear vine gathered there, and to the journeys and activities of groups of ancestral women. The paintings are about all of these things, and more.

Of course, when most people confront these pictures, the specific stories and places aren't readily apparent. Instead, it is the sheer visual impact of her fields that strike home. But as with all great art, without purpose and meaning, the spaces are empty. Through her shimmering surfaces, her radiating fields of finely dotted lines, Yukultji makes the potency of place visible.

Christopher Hodges, May 2014

Yukultji Napangati:
Powerful painting for powerful places

The breadth, remoteness and grandeur of the western desert has been a forceful subject for many Pintupi artists. This tough land is the arena for the travels and deeds of the ancestors, the stories and songs that capture their journeys give shape to the land and meaning to its fabric.

No wonder that so many Pintupi artists have used this as the substance for their paintings. Great painters like Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Ronnie Tjampitjinpa and George Tjungurrayi have found their own unique ways to capture the subtlety and the drama in their work.

Yukultji Napangati grew up in this vast land and until 1984, when as a young girl she walked into Kiwirrkurra with a group of family members, was unknowing of what lay beyond it.

It was not until 1996 that Yukultji began painting, slowly finding her own voice, and making an impression with her organic fields of linear pattern. In 2005 she was included in Primavera at the Museum of Contemporary Art. She made an impact with a group of assured canvasses.

It is thus surprising that it is only now we are able to see a defining solo exhibition of her latest work, which captures the range and development of her oeuvre.

In recent years shimmering surfaces have defined her work. The picture plane is covered with linear pattern, overlaid with bands of fine dots in two shades, the effect of which is to energise the canvas; the linear pattern directing the eye one way, while the horizontall dotted bands pull it the other. Add to this the touches of undercolour peeping through and the visual intensity is taken another step.

It's hard to focus on some of these works, like a heat haze, or a mirage, the surfaces shift and play. The smaller works are most at ease, but as the scale increases the fields build in drama and energy.

The new development in her work has been the appearance of other elements entering the picture plane. In some, more traditional forms appear and are incorporated into the field. In others, larger organic elements enter the picture plane with a more direct force, in some cases injecting their own energy into the composition, animating the surface
in response to their presence. Such insertions give real focus, attention and drama to the canvases.

In these paintings, the power of small places in vast space is addressed. Yukultji is referring to places that are important to her, thinking about them from her studio in Kiwirrkurra. The force they exert is captured in her painting. One place is Yunala, a rockhole and soakage water site situated amongst sandhills to the west of Kiwirrkurra. Another place is Marrapinti, west of the Pollock Hills.

When documenting her paintings, Yukultji refers to natural landforms like sandhills and rockholes at these sites, to edible vegetation such as the yunala tuber and the roots of the bush banana or silk pear vine gathered there, and to the journeys and activities of groups of ancestral women. The paintings are about all of these things, and more.

Of course, when most people confront these pictures, the specific stories and places aren't readily apparent. Instead, it is the sheer visual impact of her fields that strike home. But as with all great art, without purpose and meaning, the spaces are empty. Through her shimmering surfaces, her radiating fields of finely dotted lines, Yukultji makes the potency of place visible.

Christopher Hodges, May 2014