Pintupu artist Patrick Tjungurrayi has taken out the richest indigenous art prize in the country – the new WA Indigenous Art Award, established last year at $50,000 for the national prize, and $10,000 for a WA winner. June Walkutjukurr Richards from Warburton was the winner of the latter.

Sixteen artists selected from 157 nominations received were invited to deliver a suite of works for the final judging. And the judges were freelance curator Djon Mundine, art historian Ian McLean, also author of such challenging titles as The Art of Gordon Bennett, White Aborigines and How Aborigines invented contemporary art, Art Gallery of Western Australia Deputy Director Gary Dufour, and its Curator of Indigenous Art, Carly Lane.

The 16 selected artists on show until mid-January are a splendid geographical and artistic spread from the Torres Strait across to The Kimberley, Utopia and the Western Desert down to Perth, and urban Queensland down to the Blue Mountains: Jean Baptiste Apuatimi, Daniel Boyd, Fiona Foley, Jenny Fraser, Sally Gabori, Gordon Hookey, Dinni Kunoth Kemarre, Patrick Mung Mung, Naata Nungurrayi, Josie Kunoth Petyarre, Shane Pickett, June Richards, Muni (Rita) Simpson, Spinifex Artists Group (Byron Brookes, Fred Grant, Ned Grant, Simon Hogan, Ian Rictor, Roy Underwood and Lennard Walker), Alick Tipoti, and Patrick Tjungurrayi.

Tjungurrayi joins fellow Papunya Tula artists, Makinti Napanangka and Doreen Reid Nakamarra in the 2008 pantheon – Makinti having won the $40,000 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, and Reid the Telstra General Painting Prize in Darwin in August.

June Richards, on the other hand, is a contender from way left field. She lives in the rarified world of remote Warburton. But her painting – as seen at the very urban Mori Gallery earlier this year is political in a citified way. A brave choice for the WA State prize, especially as the ALP government which established these generous prizes has now disappeared in favour of a conservative coalition.

New Premier, Colin Barnett, however was happy to claim Patrick Tjungurrayi as one of his own on the night, last Friday: It is fantastic that a Western Australian artist has taken out the major award – that is open to artists from throughout Australia, Mr Barnett said. The Liberal-National Government recognises the significant economic, social and cultural benefits of indigenous visual arts and is committed to working in various ways to support the development of this sector”.

The odd exclusion of Arnhemland barks from this inaugural prize is unexplained, and particularly strange since Yirrkala artists have taken out at least three other major awards elsewhere in 2008.