Untitled (Watanuma, flying ant dreaming) 1988 bears artist's name, dimensions and Papunya Tula Artists catalogue number MN881287 verso synthetic polymer paint on canvas 180.0 x 122.0cm (70 7/8 x 48 1/16in).
PROVENANCE Painted at Papunya in 1988 Papunya Tula Artists, Alice Springs, Northern Territory Gabrielle Pizzi Gallery, Melbourne The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1989
EXHIBITED Michael Jagamara Nelson, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne, 1989
Michael Jagamara Nelson is a Warlpiri artist who was born at Pikilyi (Vaughan Springs) west of Yuendumu. After years of working as a buffalo shooter and drover in the East and South Alligator Rivers area in the top end of the Northern Territory, and a stint in the army, he moved to Papunya by 1972. Nelson commenced painting for Papunya Tula Artists in 1983 and made a meteoric rise in the world of art. In the following year he won the National Aboriginal Art Award and in 1986 he was represented in the Biennale of Sydney.
A number of major commissions followed. In 1985 his design for a Possum and Wallaby Dreaming was selected out of ten submitted by Papunya artists to be made into a mosaic for the forecourt of the new Parliament House in Canberra that opened in 1988. The symbolism of this 196 square metre granite mosaic is multilayered and encompasses the idea of a meeting place for black and white Australians alike. The Parliament House architect, Aldo Giurgola described the mosaic as 'playing a pivotal, symbolic role...evoking the continent of Australia and establishing the importance of Aboriginal culture in the history of the land and in contemporary Australia'.1
In 1987 Michael Nelson was commissioned by the Sydney Opera House to create the largest canvas by a desert Aboriginal artist ever made, the ten-metre long Possum Dreaming for the northern foyer of the building. In 1988 he travelled to New York for the opening of the groundbreaking exhibition Dreamings, at The Asia Society Galleries. His painting Five Stories, 1984, adorns the cover of the exhibition catalogue.2 At the time, Michael Nelson was yet to have a solo exhibition of his work; that occurred in 1989 at Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi in Melbourne and Untitled (Watanuma, Flying Ant Dreaming), 1988, was originally acquired from that exhibition. The painting is comparable to one in the Holmes à Court Collection on the same theme at the same site of Warntunguru: the ceremonial colours associated with the Flying Ant ancestors are red and white.3
From this exhibition came yet another major commission to hand-paint a BMW M3 Le Mans racing car. Michael Nelson was in good company: the BMW 'art car' series had commenced in 1975 with a car painted by Alexander Calder, and other artists to be engaged over the years included Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. In 1993 Michael Nelson was made a Member of the Order of Australia for services to Aboriginal art, and in 2006 he won the Tattersall's Landscape Art Prize in Brisbane.
In 1985, Nelson's Five Dreaming, c.1985, was quoted, without prior permission, in a painting by Imants Tillers, The Nine Shots. Tillers' work initiated a debate on the use of Aboriginal imagery in the postmodern idiom and after much controversy, the two artists eventually collaborated on a group of paintings, many of which were presented in the exhibition The Loaded Ground: Michael Jagamara Nelson & Imants Tillers at the Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, Canberra, in 2012.
1 Vivien Johnson, Michael Jagamara Nelson, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1997, p. 84, as cited in Carol George, 'Story in Stone', The Australian Way, March 1988, pp. 9-14 2 Peter Sutton [ed.], Dreamings: The art of Aboriginal Australia, Viking in association with The Asia Society Galleries, Melbourne and New York, 1988 3 Vivien Johnson, op. cit., pl. 5, p.24
This painting is sold with an accompanying Papunya Tula Artists certificate.
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