Yam story 1972 synthetic polymer powder paint on composition board 85.0 x 80.0cm (33 7/16 x 31 1/2in).
PROVENANCE Stuart Art Centre, Northern Territory Private collection Important Aboriginal Art, Sotheby's, Melbourne, 30 June 1997, lot 184 (illus.) The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1997
Mick Namarari was one of the original and most influential painters when the Western Desert painting movement commenced at Papunya in 1971. As a child, he first encountered Europeans in 1932 when his family lived near Mount Liebig: he was photographed and his details recorded by a research party from Adelaide University lead by the anthropologist Norman Tindale.1 Namarari went to school at Hermannsburg mission for a few years before moving with his family to Haasts Bluff. He grew up to be a stockman and worked on a number of cattle stations before settling at Papunya.
Namarari was an active member of the painting group at Papunya, and his work was included in nearly all of the consignments of paintings to the Stuart Art Centre in Alice Springs in 1971 and 1972.2 His prowess as a painter was recognized on several levels. In 1978 he was the subject of a film made by Geoffrey Bardon, the art teacher and instigator of the painting movement at Papunya, called Mick and the Moon, which describes the life of a contemporary desert Aboriginal artist and features a number of major paintings from the period. In 1991 Namarari won the National Aboriginal Art Award with a painting entitled Bandicoot dreaming. And in 1994 he was the recipient of the Australia Council's prestigious Red Ochre Award for his services to Aboriginal art in Australia and abroad.
Namarari's paintings featured in several major exhibitions including Dreamings: The art of Aboriginal Australia, at The Asia Society Galleries, New York in 1988; L'été australien à Montpellier: 100 chefs-d'uvre de la peinture australienne in Montpellier, France, in 1990; Aratjara: Art of the First Australians that toured Europe in 1993 and 1994; Crossroads-Towards a New Reality: Aboriginal Art from Australia that toured Japan in 1992; Papunya Tula: Genesis and Genius, Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2000; Icons of the Desert: Early Aboriginal Paintings from Papunya (from the John and Barbara Wilkerson Collection) in New York in 2009; and Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert art, at National Gallery of Victoria, in 2011, and at the Musée du quai Branly, Paris, in 2012.
Yam story was painted in the first years of the Papunya movement, during a time of great artistic exploration and innovation. The subject of bush tucker was one that Namarari painted regularly between 1971 and 1973: see for example, Bush tucker story, 1972, in the collection of the Queensland Art Gallery, and Water dreaming with bush tucker story, 1972, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria (illustrated in Ryan, J., J. Kean et al, Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert art, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2011, pp. 167 and 176 respectively). In these paintings, Namarari elaborated on conventional desert compositional structures to create innovative abstracted designs representing country. In Yam story, the tracery of yam roots underground is separated by long ovoids suggestive of the tubers that radiate from a central roundel, while on two sides, pairs of digging sticks are represented.
1 Philip Batty [ed.], Colliding Worlds: First Contact in the Western Desert 19321984, Melbourne and Adelaide: Museum Victoria and National Aboriginal Cultural Institute Tandanya, 2006, p. 41 2 Vivien Johnson, Lives of the Papunya Tula Artists, IAD Press, Alice Springs, 2008, p. 40
This painting was originally sold with a certificate from the Stuart Art Centre, Alice Springs with a diagram and annotations identifying the key elements.