It’s been a bad time for Aboriginal art “ far too many deaths of the Old People have occurred, the artists who often saw no white people until their maturity and are painting the deserts and their stories first hand. Many, significantly are enjoying their last hurrah at the important Tjukurpa Pulkatjara exhibition at the SA Museum in Adelaide… Wingu Tingima has just died, earlier we lost Mr Giles and Kuntjil Cooper. Last year Utopia’s Nancy Petyarre passed on.
Now comes news that George Ward Tjungurrayi, the Pintupui elder and artist has suffered a stroke in Alice Springs. It makes the major exhibition now on at the Trevor Victor Harvey Gallery in Sydney all the more significant. For even if Ward recovers to put acrylic to linen again in his own special way, the chances are that he’ll never accumulate enough works of quality for the sort of solo show now on.
Ironically, Ward’s first solo exhibition may also be his last.
But you can see here how commandingly he’d have won the 2004 Wynne Prize for landscape. For this half-brother of Yala Yala Gibbs “ who waited for the elder’s death in 1998 before really hitting his own straps “ has developed a way of seeing both the Desert and the Tingari cycles of mythology through irregularly repeated concentric circles or squares, squeezing them together intensely on canvases as big as 3 metres wide, and invariably using an austere palate of darker shades that make a viewer feel s/he’s suspended somewhere between the land at Kaakuratintja (Lake Macdonald) and the night sky.
It’s an incredible output for a man who was suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. But then Ward has enjoyed the care and attention in recent years of the Yanda studio, on a property outside Alice Springs. No day starts there without a check that the artists’ medicines have been taken.
Tragically, this means that purists will resist buying Ward’s art “ for they demand a Papunya Tula Artists’ certificate to go with the canvases from a man who seems to have voted with his feet to look for representation elsewhere. The purists may lose out. For Chris Simon of Yanda and galleryist Trevor Harvey have united to reduce their joint commission on the canvases by about half in order to make sure George Ward gets his money while he can still enjoy it and share it with his family.
We know the market is soft, explained Harvey at the exhibition’s opening, but we want to sell out for George.
That ‘softness’ in the market may also be observed in some very generous estimates for Aboriginal art in the current Deutscher & Hackett auction catalogue “ the sale is on 24 March in Melbourne. A substantial George Ward Tjungarrayi from 2002, for instance, would be a steal at under $10,000.