A fascinating artwork comes up for sale at the auctioneers Bonhams in Sydney later this month. Its significance lies in the fact that it was the first artwork sold by the new Papunya Tula Artists cooperative when it opened its Alice Springs gallery in 1973. The board is by the sadly short-lived Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri, one of the most sophisticated of those pioneering painters in the Papunya Men’s Painting Room.
The purchaser in 1973 was Melbourne GP, Dr Harry Perelberg, who spent several months that year practising in Alice, and was already an enthusiast for the very new art that had emerged from the miserable Papunya settlement in 1971. He eagerly attended the gallery’s opening day and, upon asking the Aboriginal elders present to advise him on which work he should buy, they unanimously agreed that it should be the work by Anmatyerre artist Tim Leura.
Another reason for interest in the work is that it has an extremely rare subject – a Euro Dreaming. Searching through all the major catalogues of early Papunya art and the big Geoffrey Bardon book, I can’t find any other example of a Papunya artist celebrating the euro. By the way, it’s one of four main types of Kangaroo – the Big Red, the Grey, the Wallaby and, in desert areas, the Wallaroo, known locally as the Euro .
However, the Euro was a subject that Leura himself revisited throughout his career, painting several Euro Dreamings between 1972 and 1973 such as ‘Untitled/Euro Dreaming Ceremony’, (1972) which is in the collection of Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, and features a similarly formal structure. There’s another sketch of a ‘Euro Story‘ by Leura in the Bardon book.
The story of the Perelberg work, ‘Euro Hunting’ (1973) – which seems not to have been shown in public before – takes place at Kalakintj (Black Hill), north of Napperby. This is Leura’s traditional Anmatyerre country. He had been born at Napperby Creek and grew up around Napperby station. The accompanying Papunya Tula Artists documentation describes Kalakintj as “a euro watering place. The painting shows men camped around, lying in wait for the wallaroos as they come for their evening drink. Also shown are the smooth places on the rocks worn shiny by the feet of many wallaroo generations”.
‘Euro Hunting‘ features the symmetry and formal repetition that typically distinguishes the works of the Anmatyerre artists from those of the Pintupi men with whom they shared the Painting Room. A key feature of Leura’s work is his use of an evening or night time setting – ideal for hunting. He “excelled at evoking the muted tones of night” and his “oeuvre is notable for its melancholy tertiary palette”, according to former-PTA man, John Kean, writing in the catalogue for the NGV’s big ‘Tjukurrtjanu‘ exhibition.
Do note the magical red shield shape glowing in the centre of the work.
At the auction on 24th August, Bonhams hope to raise $60,000. I wonder what Dr Perelberg paid?
Artist: Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri,
Gallery: Bonhams ,