From The Western Australian:

WA painter Patrick Tjungurrayi has won Australia’s richest Aboriginal art prize with his monumental series of canvases depicting a scrub fire in his Gibson Desert homeland.

They were the best, the best-looking, judge Djon Mundine said with disarming simplicity to explain the choice announced by Premier Colin Barnett at the Art Gallery of WA last night FRI.

Mr Mundine said the judges initially had resisted giving the inaugural $50,000 WA Indigenous Art Award to Tjungurrayi because his paintings fitted the dot-and-dash Aboriginal art stereotype and the intention of the award was to showcase the diversity of styles across the country.

Among the 90 works from the 16 finalists were the video projections and digital photography of Queenslanders Jenny Fraser and Fiona Foley, the intricate linocut prints of Torres Strait Islander Alick Tipoti and the bold, pop-art banners of Brisbane artist Gordon Hookey.

But Tjungurrayi’s three untitled paintings, each of them 2.5m wide, had leapt out as the best, Mr Mundine said.

His three pictures as a group had a particularly strong presence and were really pushing the tradition he was working in. These are powerful, masterful, monumental works.

Aged about 70, Tjungurrayi is a Pintupi speaker who divides his time between the remote WA settlements of Balgo and Kiwirrkura, which is 400km to the south of Balgo and 800km west of Alice Springs.

Speaking through an interpreter, he said he was very happy to win the award and would spend some of the $50,000 on a car for his son Raymond, who had helped him on his first trip to Perth.

I am number one, Tjungurrayi said. I have to look after too many families so I will look after them with the rest of the money.

Tjungurrayi has been one of Australia’s most collectable artists for the past five years, with his paintings fetching up to $40,000.

Mr Mundine said Tjungurrayi’s art combined the vivid colours of Balgo with the geometry of the classic Papunya Tula style that led the Aboriginal art movement in the 1970s.

Another desert artist, June Walkutjukurr Richards from Warburton, won the $10,000 prize for a WA artist acknowledged as creating significant work.

Mr Mundine and another judge, Ian McLean, urged the new Liberal Government to retain the new prize as an annual event after suggestions it may become a biennial award.

The former Labor government had launched the event as the nation’s richest Aboriginal art award to focus national attention on WA along the lines of the Archibald Prize, Dr McLean said.

It would be silly for the wealthiest State in the country to hold such an event every second year, he said. It will be like having Christmas or the Grand Final every second year.

Another finalist, East Kimberley artist Patrick Mung Mung, said the prize would be better held every second year so he had more time to work on his entries.

Culture and Arts Minister John Day said the Government would continue to support the award but would not confirm its annual status. We will watch to see how the awards structure works and, if we can see a way to improve it, we will consider making some changes.

The 16 finalists’ artworks will be on show at the Art Gallery of WA until January, when the winner of the $5000 People’s Choice Award will be announced.