“When you consider that she never studied art, never came into contact with the great artists of her time and did not begin painting until she was almost 80 years of age, there can only be one way to describe her. She was just a genius.”
– Akira Tatehata –Director, National Museum of Art, Osaka
Tim Jennings, owner of Mbantua Gallery, first met Emily in the late 1980’s when she was part of a women’s group working in batiks, a few years before she began painting in acrylics. He was close to Emily and members of her extended family right up until her death in 1996 and recalls her being a strong minded woman even though she spoke very little English.
Emily Kame Kngwarreye was a senior custodian for Alhalkere country. She began painting quite late in her life and had first been introduced to silk batik with a group of women from Utopia in 1977. Emily had been working with and exhibiting batik in Australia and abroad between 1977 and 1987 before taking up acrylics on canvas.
Canvas gave Emily and the other artists a greater freedom of expression to experiment with different styles in which to portray their Dreaming stories. Because batik had been the first medium that the artists at Utopia had really experimented with, and it being rather a 'one-hit' medium, they developed quite contrasting styles on canvas and Utopian Art now has probably the most diverse range of styles than any other Aboriginal Art.
Emily's trademark style of superimposed bold gestural dotwork, sometimes overlaying linear patterns derived from Ceremonial body paint designs, would have been technically impossible in batik. In this way, Kngwarreye, as an artist, was able to fully express her Country and Dreamings more accurately, as she had been taught.
"Emily’s work has been regularly compared to the New York abstract expressionists Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. A principal distinction the critics make, and it is key to understanding the acclaim surrounding the paintings of the Utopian artist, is that Kngwarreye is better, more profound."- Sydney Morning Herald, 31/5/08
Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s paintings are described by leading international art academics as being equal to the works of Monet, and other great Impressionist and Abstract artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Rothko.
Experts have argued that Earth’s Creation is a more important painting for Australia than Jackson’s Blue Poles, the highly controversial American work that put the National Gallery of Australia onto the world stage in 1973, and remains one of its most celebrated works today.
Earth’s Creation was painted by a genius Australian, with no formal or even informal training in art. She knew nothing of any other schools of art - she’d never even seen another painting. She had barely 20 or so words in English. She spoke in ancient Australian languages, Anmatyerre and Alyawarr. She painted “everything” in a way that was never done before, and has never been seen since.
“What’s important is that she never would have visited anything like New York, she was a product of a very, very remote community. So there are similarities in style, but her source was entirely different - her work was rooted deeply in her culture and deep in Australia’s desert.” -
Margo Neale – Indigenous Art Curator and Historian