A very, very interesting article in the Telegraph about Aboriginal art from the perspective of UK journalist Will Storr. The article covers the Yuendumu and Papuya communities as Will follows Roslyn Premont from Gallery Gondwana on a buying trip:
Indeed, Cecilia tells me as she unfurls a couple of new A$14,000 Shortys, he hardly even requires guidance. Before her arrival in Yuendumu, he’d produced seven canvasses, which Cecilia thought beautiful. But the first he produced for her was a disaster.
‘His family did it,’ she says. ‘I could tell. I was really disappointed. I said, “Shorty, if you want to paint for me, you’re going to have to come to the centre and do it”.’ But that didn’t appeal to the senior genius. There followed a year where Cecilia unsuccessfully ‘chased him around the community. Then one day I saw him. I turned the car around and I said, “Shorty, come paint for me” and he said “I’m hungry”. I had some nuts in the car, so I said “Here, have these nuts. If you come to the centre to paint tomorrow, I’ll give you 300 dollars”.’ The canvas Shorty painted the next morning ended up in Australia’s National Gallery of Victoria. Since then, he’s produced 1,066 works. Every one has sold.
‘The day Shorty dies,’ says Cecilia, ‘I’ll hang up my hat. It would just be so much harder without him.’
I meet Shorty the next day. He arrives at 9am, unmistakable with his white beard and yellow hair billowing out from under his greasy Stetson. A pack of worshipful mongrels follow him in, fussing and shooting him meaningful glances. They settle happily about the half-finished canvas that he’s laid on the concrete stoop outside the centre. I begin by asking Shorty, via an interpreter, why he thinks his work sells so quickly.
‘He says he paints the Water Dreaming,’ says the interpreter.
But why do his paintings sell, while others don’t? What is it that he’s doing that’s unique?
‘He says it’s Water Dreaming.’
Yes, but what does he think white people like so much about the Water Dreaming?’
‘He says it’s because it’s Water Dreaming.’
Why does he paint Water Dreaming?
‘Because it’s Water Dreaming, Water Dreaming.’