SAM Art: A vivid tornado of paint

Visual Vertigo

Indigenous artists from the center of the Australian continent unleashed a wave of art production in the 1970s. Their contribution has been described as a renaissance of the world’s oldest living cultures. A new installation in the museum’s Australian Aboriginal art gallery brings together work from this unusual chapter of art history.

Greed is being punished in this vivid tornado of paint, which the artist calls “a really sorry story” from an area known as Walu. The painting chronicles the actions of a naughty boy who stole food, but denied it. Due to his misdeeds, the boy was turned into the wind. Looping lines surge with punitive force, and are delicately dotted to remind us of the dissolving fate of the boy.

Walu, 2008, Tommy Mitchell (Australian Aboriginal, Ngaanyatjarra people, Warakurna, Southwestern Deserts, Western Australia, born 1943), wynthetic polymer paint on canvas, 40 x 60 in., Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, © Tommy Mitchell. On view in the Australian Aboriginal art gallery, third floor, SAM Downtown, starting Saturday, 4 May.

SAM Art: A new exhibition, a new way of seeing the world

An exuberant visual language has sprung out of Aboriginal artists across the continent of Australia. While this language occasionally looks extremely modern, it depicts unexpected subjects. Epics that involve shape shifting ancestors and short stories devoted to the flora and fauna of their country are given visual form. A sudden abundance of art production since the 1970s has been described as a renaissance of the world’s oldest living culture.

Six women sat together to paint this vision of their country, shaped by Luurnpa (the Kingfisher) who created features of the landscape.  Luurnpa is regarded as the keeper of the law and his influence spreads far from these women’s homes in Balgo. In this painting, Luurnpa creates with significant creeks, which meander around the edges. He puts his beak into the ground to create waterholes (seen as circles). People (U-shapes) walk to gather food (footprints) and are especially pleased when they find a rich vein of potatoes (elongated brown ovals).

Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection opens on Thursday, 31 May (with a preview for SAM members on Wednesday, 30 May, 11:00am-6:00pm).

Wirrimanu (Balgo), 1999, Balgo Women (Tjemma Freda Napanangka, ca. 1930–2004; Margaret Anjulle, born 1946; Patricia Lee Napangarti, born 1960; Mati Mudgidell, ca. 1935–2002; Lucy Yukenbarri, 1934–2003; Eubena Nampitjin, born ca. 1920), Australian Aboriginal, Kukatja, Wangkajunga, and Warlpiri peoples, Balgo (Wirrimanu), Kimberley/Western Desert, Western Australia, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 47 5/8 x 116 1/8 in., Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan. On view in Ancestral Modern, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown, starting Thursday, 31 May.