Water Dreaming with Bush Tucker synthetic polymer paint on composition board 58 x 48cm
PROVENANCE: Painted for Geoffrey Bardon in 1972 Acquired from the above in 1973 James Bardon, Sydney
EXHIBITED: On loan to the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra for twenty-five years
LITERATURE: Geoffrey Bardon, Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert, Ringwood: McPhee Gribble, 1991, pp.56-7 (illus.). S. Crossman and J.P. Barou, Peintres Aborigènes d'Australie, Indigène editions, Montpellier, France, 1997a, p.43 (illus.). Geoffrey Bardon and James Bardon, Papunya, A Place Made After the Story: The Beginnings of the Western Desert Painting Movement, Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, 2004, p.356, ptg.307 (illus.).
FILMOGRAPHY: Geoffrey Bardon (director), A Calender of Dreamings, 1977.
Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula is one of the original doyens of the revolutionary painting movement that had its genesis in the government settlement of Papunya in the western deserts in 1971. He became one of the finest exponents of adapting the conceptual elements of ritual ground painting and body decoration to sheets of composition board and later onto canvas.
Water Dreaming with Bush Tucker, 1972, was completed in April-May 1972. It was a time at Papunya when artists were openly discussing their relationships to their traditional lands that lay far away, from which they had been removed and for which they were unable to fulfil the traditional obligation of caring for one's customary country (Bardon and Bardon, 2004:429). At Papunya, painting the country provided the most direct means by which artists could celebrate and honour their land, and to vivify the ancestral forces that nourish it, much as Indigenous artists around the continent continue to do today.
Warangkula was a senior custodian and ritual leader for three Water Dreaming sites in the Pintupi and Luritja-speaking peoples' land; Kalipinypa, Tjikari and Ilpilli. These places are renowned for spectacular electrical storms and rains that ensure the luxuriant nature of the environment. Bush foods grow profusely after rain, and one in particular is the wild raisin kampurrarpa (Solanum-centrale) with which the artist has a totemic association. Paintings of country layered with kampurrarpa lend the work a specifically personal expression of identity. In an article published by the National Gallery of Victoria in the Art Bulletin of Victoria 4, (2002), John Kean ascribes the innovation of the use of dots to denote vegetation to Johnny Warangkula in whom he recognized 'a supreme gestural confidence that marks him out from his peers at Papunya'.
Water Dreaming with Bush Tucker, 1972, has a particularly autobiographical aspect. Ostensibly, the painting depicts a mother and her child gathering bush foods in a landscape that is inundated by the waters of the meandering rivers that link a series of freshwater sites represented as sets of concentric circles. The rivers become a visual pun for vines and the branches of shrubs and bushes they are lined with bush foods as indicated by the small ovals linked to the meanders. The mother and child's footprints can be discerned as they move along the watercourses. Domestic items such as a digging stick and grinding stones are shown beside the child.
In this respect, the painting bears comparison with the paintings that Geoffrey Bardon, the catalyst behind the Papunya painting movement in the early 1970s, had commissioned of the senior artists as teaching aids for the children at the local community school. (These paintings are now housed at the Araluen Galleries in the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct. Bardon discusses these paintings and illustrates several in Bardon and Bardon, 2004, pp.474-501).
On another level, Water Dreaming with Bush Tucker, 1972, can be interpreted as a reference to ceremony and initiation, during which initiates learn bush craft, as evidenced by the presence of a ceremonial pole emerging from the central roundel, to the left, and other ritual objects. The central roundel is connected to the other circles by means of the meander to infer the structure of a ground painting, and, as Bardon notes, the area of red dotting describes a ceremonial area (ibid. p.356). The figures' bodies are also decorated in painted designs.
The theme of Water Dreamings is prevalent in much of Warangkula's oeuvre. In 1971 he commenced a series of works which evolved into paintings layered in dots, dashes and stippling that produce a visually vibrant surface. By the winter of 1972, Warangkula is likely to have been encouraged to continue this theme by the flooding rains that inundated the region around Papunya. Water Dreaming with Bush Tucker, 1972, is a key work in the series. It clearly defines the compositional matrix that underpins the saturated atmospheric paintings that reach their zenith with Water Dreaming with Bush Tucker, 1972, (in the John and Barbara Wilkerson Collection, illustrated in Bardon and Bardon 2004:168, ptg.76; Hetti Perkins and Hannah Fink (eds.), Papunya Tula: Genesis and Genius, Art Gallery of New South Wales in association with Papunya Tula Artists, Sydney, 2000, p.63 and R. Benjamin and A.C. Weislogel (eds.), Icons of the Desert: Early Aboriginal Paintings from Papunya, New York: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, 2009, p.126) that set the record for the artist's work at auction in 2000. Water Dreaming with Bush Tucker is framed by lines that ripple along the edges of the painting, while strong diagonals from the top corners lead the eye to the central roundel, the focus of the painting.
Related works in the series include Water Dreaming with Bush Tucker, 1971, in Bardon and Bardon 2004, p.163, ptg.70; Bush Tucker Dreaming with Running Water (Version 1), 1972, ibid, p.357, ptg.308; A Bush Tucker Story, 1972, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, and Rain Dreaming at Kalipinypa, 1973, in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia illustrated in Perkins and Fink 2000, p.60 and p.65 respectively; and Water Theft at Tjikarri, 1972, Water Dreaming for Women and Girls, 1972, and Children's Bush Tucker Dreaming, 1972, in Bardon and Bardon 2004, p.268, ptg.196, p.374, ptg.328, and p.481, ptg.461 respectively.
Please note the catalogue entry for this work should also include the following literature reference and exhibition history:
Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art, The Ian Potter Centre: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 30 September 2011 - 12 February 2012
Judith Ryan, Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2011, p.226 (illus.)., p.307.
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