Back in May 2013, I wrote enthusiastically about the opening of Melbourne’s ‘Emily Museum’, celebrating, of course, the career of the woman its owner, Hank Ebes called Australia’s greatest artist. As he continued at the time, There is no influence from any other culture on this woman. She’d have painted just as she did in the 1990s in 1810 “ and that would have beaten Kandinsky to the invention of abstraction! As it is, her legacy has been compared to Monet and de Kooning; she is our heritage, and should have a solo art museum. Europe is covered in them.

Sadly, Kngwarreye no longer has her solo art museum. It was closed by Ebes in 2016 after losses for him of a million dollars, after offers to both the Victorian State government and the Feds to take it over continually fell on deaf ears.

So, as Ebes is now 77 and has already suffered a quadruple heart bypass, he’s selling up “ the first tranche of 61 paintings going into the 110-work auction in a week’s time via Cooee Art MarketPlace.

Hank Ebes can safely be said to have had a colourful history “ way outside the prescribed boundaries of the community art centre system (though, counter-intuitively, yet another attempt to set up an art centre for the scattered communities of artists on the former Utopia station has been funded by the federal government). He was Dutch and a pilot “ maybe a crop-duster – who recognised the nascent market for Aboriginal art in early 1990 but saw that the dealerships for both Utopia art and Papunya Tula had already been snapped up in Melbourne. So he flew himself to Alice Springs and bought 120 Kngwarreyes on the spot from Donald Holt, the man who owned Utopia’s neighbouring pastoral property, and was able to offer Emily painting space on his verandahs. Ebes soon fell out with Holt, but employed three agents working for him in the area picking up what they could. But then Ebes fell in with the influential trio of artist Barbara Weir, her son Fred Torres and her mother Minnie Pwerle, sister-in-law to Emily, who were able to supply the dealer with many of the 650 Emilys he says passed through his hands at his Aboriginal Gallery of Dreamings.

Coincidentally, I had filmed the flamboyant conversationalist there in the 1990s for my film, ‘Art from the Heart?‘ representing an aspect of the distance city dealers are from the artists who provide them with a living.

Now, he only has 243 Emilys left! But they include more than half of the extraordinary ‘last series’ of 24 canvases that were painted just two weeks before the artist’s death in 1996. Some have felt this was exploitative of her waning health. But Fred Torres assures the world that she had chosen to make a final statement, though I suspect he supplied a much larger brush than she’d ever used before and polymer paint colours that were exotically outside her usual range. Art eminence, Dr Daniel Thomas describes the works as her most American-seeming abstractions. Great slabs of pure colour, often in a single layer. Lush and hectic pink and orange or stately blue and orange, or (chosen for the cover of Kngwarreye’s major touring show catalogue in Japan) a ghostly whiteness, a curatorial suggestion of the artist’s impending death.

That’s undoubtedly my favourite, recognised in Japan as an instinctively Zen appreciation of the Buddhist Nirvana. But the Cooee sale carries a much brighter and larger work, a rare offering at auction with a half million dollar price tag, which, oddly, isn’t from the Ebes Collection.

The sale does include another out-of-the-ordinary work by Kngwarreye “ a brilliant red that I’ve never encountered in her work before. And no fewer than 8 more of her works from Ebes. There are also two Rover Thomas’s which deserve serious consideration; interestingly preferences went by gender when viewing last weekend “ women favouring the curvaceous ‘Baragu Country‘, while men went for his ‘Canning Stock Route‘ with its strings of dotted pearls.

A darkly coloured Tim Leura canvas found in America must be the pick of the Central Desert works, dark because it portrays wrong-skin lusts and magic spells, a whirlwind that attempts to scatter the magic potions and the punishment that is eventually meeted out on the rule-breaking Tjungarrayi. A gigantic Tommy Watson is from his later, prolific Yanda Arts era, and comes home from France. Perfect for a grand office foyer!

Given the Fred Torres connection with Hank Ebes, there’s plenty of his grandmother Pwerle family works, and interesting essays on all those Utopia linkages. Another catalogue essay attempts to explain the significance of the Tingari cycle that turns up as the subject of so many Desert paintings, such as those of ‘The Last Nomads‘, including Warlimpirrgna Tjapaltjarri, so hot currently in the US thanks to Dennis Scholl’s assiduous promotional work. There’s plenty on Emily herself.

Hank Ebes tells me, I am in the process of selling all of my stock and private collection through agents and auctions. But I’d put money that the last to go will be his extraordinary ‘Emily Wall‘.

For, by far his greatest pleasure in life comes from the perfectly positioned suite of 53 panels which face the window in his living-quarters overlooking the one-time museum. The canvases reflect the changing seasons in the Utopian artist’s life, spreading glowingly across 15 metres in width and 5 metres height, laid out in precisely the order the artist determined. It’s never been seen publicly in Australia outside that building.