At the age of 80, or thereabouts, Nonggirrnga Marawili is emerging as one of the most dynamic Indigenous artists at work today. This is usually a productive age for Aboriginal painters who take up making art late in life.
Marawili’s first bark paintings were produced in the early 1990s, when she began to assist her artist husband, Djutjadjtja. Those early collaborative barks were highly accomplished but conventional in style. It’s only over the past five to six years that Marawili’s work has developed a striking originality. A survey exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW – Nonggirrnga Marawili: From My Heart and Mind – concentrates heavily on these late pictures, which have been eagerly acquired by museums and leading private collectors.
Marawili has spent her life participating in ceremony but says there is nothing sacred about her paintings. Her themes are primal and elemental: rocks, fire, lightning, the surge of the sea. She has invented her own set of motifs, from the densely netted forms of Yathikpa (2013), pictured, to the floating geometric shapes and fierce colour of Lightning (2017), which has been painted on a sheet of aluminium. Both of these works have been acquired for the permanent collection of the AGNSW.
Can I afford it?
Marawili’s record price is $20,000 for a work made in 2016-17. Her larger barks (approximately 214cm by 80cm) are priced between $16,000 and $18,000, while the smaller barks (approximately 87cm by 59cm) sell for $10,000. Works on paper painted in ochre and pigment (approximately 76cm by 56cm) sell for $1500.
It’s worth noting that major pieces by Australia’s most celebrated living bark painter, John Mawurndjul, now sell for sums in excess of $100,000. By this standard, Marawili’s prices remain accessible, but her work is much sought-after and the exposure at the AGNSW will bring new admirers. Works sold quickly at Marawili’s most recent show, held at Alcaston Gallery in Fitzroy, Melbourne, in November.
Where can I have a squiz?