The most valuable indigenous art prize “ the Western Australia Indigenous Art Award of $50,000 has been won by Gunybi Ganambarr from Yirrkala in NW Arnhemland. After two years of triumphs by artists from the Buku Larrnggay Art Centre at the NATSIAAs, their absence in Darwin this year (see yesterday’s story) is met by victory for this innovative artist in Perth. In 2008, Ganambarr was spotted when winning the Xstrata Emerging Indigenous Artist Award in Brisbane.

Here’s what the WA Award’s curator, Glenn Iseger-Pilkington had to say:
“Ganambarr’s works of art “ informed by his Yolngu identity “ offer sumptuously rich aesthetic experiences. They come into being through his masterful command of media and a willingness to explore new formal and imaginative territories through the incorporation of unexpected materials such as conveyor belt rubber and insulation material. Ganambarr’s unique approach to creating sculptural forms, often incised, or giving them further dimension through a process of building up existing surfaces, creates depth and space across otherwise flat planes. These contain, and project an incredible amount of pictorial activity. Whilst working with a palette of restrained colours, Ganambarr produces strikingly complex works which shimmer with energy and complicated nuance. In this, he reveals himself as a true innovator both within his community and the broader field of contemporary Australian art.”

The exclusively WA Award (of $10,000) went to a Desert woman, now living on the coast near Broome – Jan Billycan. An elder in the group of Yulparija speakers who operate through the Short Street Gallery, Billycan captures the Desert of her birth in the colours of seashore where she now lives. Glenn Iseger-Pilkington again:

“Jan Billycan’s series of paintings, depicting the Country around her birth-site, Kirriwirri, exhibit her natural ability to create canvases defined by highly active and textured surfaces. Rendered in a manner which seems almost carefree, they actually belie a great sophistication and tacit knowledge of the structures of modern pictorial construction. Within each of her paintings, the eye flickers between surface readings and implied depths. Billycan’s use of colour is fluid and intuitive, often modulating across the surface on which she lyrically applies her paint.”

Commended in WA was the Tiwi dreamer and artist, Timothy Cook:
“We would like to make special mention of Timothy Cook, whose works of art captivated each of the judges throughout the intense process of identifying the winner. Cook is an artist with enormous vision and ability whose works are some of the very best being produced in Australia in the present moment.” said the judges “ who were Howard Morphy, academic from ANU, Tina Baum, curator from the National Gallery and Robert Cook from the Art Gallery of WA.

Indigenous Curator Glenn PIlkington made the original selection of 16 currently prominent artists and developed the exhibition of representative works from each of them.

The non-winners “ who may yet take home the Peoples’ Choice Prize of $5000 “ are:
Michael Cook – Bidjara, Angkaliya Curtis – Pitjantjatjara, Angelina George -Yugul Mangi, Gary Lee – Larrakia/Karajarri/Wadaman, Danie Mellor – Mamu/Ngagen/Ngajan, Patrick Mung Mung – Gija, Trevor Nickolls – Ngarrindjeri, Lena Nyadb -i Gija, Tiger Palpatja – Pitjantjatjara, Kuruwarriyingathi Bijarrb Paula Pau -l Kayardild, Reko Gwaybilla Rennie – Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay/Gummaroi, Nyilyari Tjapangat -i Pintupi, and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu – Gumatj