Kathleen Petyarre was born c. 1940 in the remote spinifex country of Atnagkere (Utopia) 275 kms north-east of Alice Springs. Her skin name is Petyarre and her language Anmatyerre. She is universally recognised as one of Australia’s greatest living Aboriginal artists.
During 2001 Kathleen Petyarre’s fame and place in Australian art history was cemented when she was honored with a major retrospective exhibition of her work at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. Titled “Kathleen Petyarre: Genius of Place”.
The artist spent her childhood in a traditional way, moving across the land with her extended family. She suggests that she was seven or eight years old when she saw her first white person. Kathleen Petyarre grew up with a foot in each world and became an accomplished English speaker. During her youth, Kathleen Petyarre had a wonderful grounding in traditional life and developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of her country around Atangkere. Birds, animals, snakes, lizards, rock holes and soakages were all basic to her world and beliefs. As an Aboriginal painter she has drawn on that knowledge.
In 1996 Kathleen Petyarre was announced as the overall winner of the 13th Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award for her painting “ Storm in Atnangkere Counrty 11”. The “Telstra” was indeed the greatest award offered to indigenous artists across the country and Kathleen Petyarre was delighted.
Kathleen Petyarre’s supreme image is her ‘Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming’. In this work she displays a cross motif that is peculiar to this work. Four Dreaming trails converge on a ceremonial square, where secret men’s and women’s business takes place. Angling towards the bottom left corner of the ‘map’ is a watercourse that has been full after rainy times but now leaves a residual pattern that is characteristic of her country. Seen from above this is a thoroughgoing map that includes the tracks and destinations of her totem, the Mountain Devil Lizard. Frequently painted on a black ground with fine cream dotting, this work speaks volumes about Kathleen’s country and her connection with it.
GENIUS OF PLACE – A 96 page book about Kathleen Petyarre’s life, art and stories with Essays by Christine Nicholls and Ian North is available for sale or free of charge with every purchase of a painting by Kathleen.