Art in Profile - July

Gloria Petyarre

<strong>Gloria [Glory] Mills Petyarre</strong><br/>b. c.1932, Utopia, Northern Territory<br/><br/><i>Untitled</i> 1990<br>Wood block print on paper, edition 9/20<br/>30 x 45cm [image]; 38 x 52.5cm [paper]<br/>Gifted through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Christopher Hodges and Helen Eager, 2015 <br/>CDU Art Collection - CDU2818This untitled woodblock print by Gloria Petyarre is one of 72 prints that form The Utopia Suite, created in 1990. Over 70 artists participated in the creation of The Utopia Suite in what was their first engagement with woodblock printing; a technique introduced to the artists of Utopia by Helen Eager, Christopher Hodges and Rodney Gooch in 1989. 

This early work is a delightful depiction of Petyarre’s customary Alywarre and Anmatyerre lands. The rolling hills on the horizon provide an undulating backdrop to the abundant plant life in the foreground. A small goanna scurries across the ground. Sand drawings of ceremonial marking used on women’s breasts and two unidentified square shapes allude to human activity at this site. This unique woodblock print encompasses the solid expansive magnitude of Petyarre’s ancient homelands together with the detail of berry-laden flora, fauna and ephemeral traces of human presence. 

This woodblock print is an early work by Petyarre who began her career as a batik artist and over time became an acclaimed Australian artist, working primarily in the medium of acrylic on canvas.

Petyarre’s early artistic career as a batik artist led her to exhibit her work around Australia for over a decade. She contributed to the major batik work A picture story, created in 1988, which was ultimately presented as evidence at the Alywarre and Anmatyerre Land Claim and resulted in the exhibition Utopia – a picture story which travelled to Ireland, England and India in 1990. Next, Petyarre participated in the Summer project, initiated by the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) during 1988-89. This project involved translating batik imagery onto canvas, thus fostering her transition from the medium of batik on textile to painting on canvas.

It was at this time, during 1989, that Petyarre undertook her first woodcuts, which were editioned in 1990 as part of The Utopia Suite. Based on an unpublished essay written by Helen Eager about the project, The Utopia Suite was created by incising craftboard, a medium-density fibreboard without grain that was able to be cut in any direction, whilst maintaining clear lines. The craftboard was undercoated with black paint, so that Petyarre and the other participating artists could clearly see the pale cream incisions. Proofs of Untitled were printed in Sydney and then delivered to Utopia. Back in Sydney the print was finally edition by Eager and Hodges with assistance from Tom Coleing and Tom Goulder.

This print, Untitled, marks a period of creative expansion and experimentation for Petyarre as she explored new techniques and discovered their ability to convey differ interpretations of her inspirational land and its flora. Later in her career, circa 1998 Petyarre also worked in the medium of screenprints. Whilst Petyarre’s earlier batik works featured figurative floral designs her more recent art is renown for its stylised abstracted interpretations of bush medicine leaves.

Since creating this woodblock print in 1990 Petyarre has become an established and acclaimed Australian artist. In 1999 she won the prestigious Wynne Prize for Landscape, awarded by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Her art is held in numerous public collections in Australia including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and the Holmes á’ Court Collection. Gloria Petyarre continues to paint today.

The CDU Art Collection is most appreciative of receiving the generous gift of The Utopia Suite, together with other prints produced by Utopia and Kintore artists circa 1998, from Helen Eager and Christopher Hodges through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program in 2015.


Joanna Barrkman
Curator, CDU Art Collection and Art Gallery
6 July 2015

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