Once Upon a Time in Papunya by Vivien Johnson

By Vivien Johnson

Part paintings background, half detective tale, this gripping insider’s account of the Papunya paintings movement—which used to be established round the 1,000 small, painted panels created on the distant northern territory Aboriginal payment of Papunya in the course of 1971 and 1972—goes past a trifling dialogue of the astronomical public sale costs within the past due Nineties that first drew many people’s recognition to those items. Celebrating Australian artwork historical past, this examine explores the historical past of the artists themselves in addition to restoring the forums’ ancient and cultural value because the first inscriptions of the spiritual ideals and sacred visible language of the Western wilderness peoples. It also appears on the controversies that surrounded the work on the time in their construction, the position of instructor Geoffrey Bardon, the depiction of sacred imagery, what they suggest to the artists’ descendants, and the far away worlds of artwork auctions and foreign exhibitions—telling the bigger tale of Aboriginal paintings in Australia and beyond.

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22 The label miraculously still clinging to the back of its frame provided this information about Sandhills and Clouds, but it remains – for now – maddeningly uncertain which of the other 104 other works that were formally acquired by the Museum on 13 March 197223 might be those other twelve works. However, if the 1971–72 Jack-Hinton purchase is examined for works using the same palette of red, white and black (or occasionally brown or beige) enamel house paint characterising the first consignment paintings identified so far, something rather interesting emerges.

Could Pat Hogan have confused the first consignment with the half-a-dozen School of Kaapa paintings Jack Cooke had brought into town, whose date of arrival in Alice Springs we saw in the previous chapter was some time before the Caltex Art Award, possibly July 1971? There is nothing to connect those paintings to the Stuart Art Centre, not even – as we shall see – any stylistic resemblance, though there was a close connection between Kaapa’s win in the Art Award and Hogan’s interest in the paintings.

Surely all of these paintings were painted in a kind of homage to the man still known among all the painters of Papunya Tula as ‘the first artist’? There is no sign that Kaapa himself painted again in the School of Kaapa style. However, in the large canvas Trial by Fire, painted by Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri in 1975 and recently unearthed in the vaults of the National Museum of Australia,69 we see its continuing influence, at least in the work of Kaapa’s associates. Apart from human figures, there are the 42 Once upon a time in Papunya skeletons which haunt the paintings as they did the life of Tim Leura, whose air of profound melancholy struck many who knew him even more than his ‘drop-dead gorgeous’ looks.

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