Country and rockholes near the Olgas 2006 inscribed 'Bill Whisky Tjapaltjarri / "Rockholes and country near the Olga's" / TI-06080 205 x 1147cm / Watiyawanu Arists of Amuntiurungu Corp' verso synthetic polymer paint on Belgian linen 147.0 x 205.0cm (57 7/8 x 80 11/16in).
PROVENANCE Watiyawanu Artists of Amunturrngu, Mt Liebig (stock no. 77-06080) Waterhole Art, Sydney The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 2007
Perched like a bird, he sat cross-legged on the ground outside his humble home. It was winter in Amunturrngu (Mount Liebig) Community in 2006 and I was standing outside the house of senior Pitjantjatjara man, Bill Whiskey Tjapaltjarri. He sat in a hobbit-like fashion, dressed in clothes speckled with paint, lively grey whiskers sprouting from his chin. Needless to say, I realised immediately where the name Whiskery (eventually abbreviated to Whiskey) had came from.
Before him was a canvas of insurmountable proportions to his slight frame, spread out in front of him like a hand-made quilt or precious Middle Eastern rug. Family surrounded Whiskey. Camp dogs scurried over his wet painting, leaving a series of endearing paw prints on the edge of the canvas. Whiskey sat still and quiet, unconcerned by the chaos around him. With punu (painting stick) in hand, he showed great command and consideration for every dot applied to the canvas.
Today, when I see a painting by Whiskey it triggers a visceral memory of our first meeting. A seminal example Country and rockholes near the Olgas 2006 resonates with raw beauty and wild surrender. Clusters of colourful dots on fields of black mimic the vast desert sky alight with stars. Lines of dots travel between the rockholes, suggesting pathways or tracks. Whiskey's gentle depictions of rockholes are emblematic and act as compositional anchors within the work, having a paradisic effect on the viewer.
The title Country and rockholes near the Olgas is rather indeterminate, but the documentation references the country and intrinsic Tjukurpa (Ancestral story) of Whiskey's birthplace. The site of the White Cockatoo is located about 130km south of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), along a road I have travelled many times over the last few years while living remotely. At the site there is a white glowing rock, partially buried under the red earth. It is said to represent the spirit of the White Cockatoo, one of the lead figures in this Tjukurpa. Surrounding it are several rockholes representing a battlefield.
According to the story, there are three ancestral figures involved the Cockatoo, his female friend the Eagle, and the sinister antagonist the Crow. Fueled by jealousy and greed for kuka (meat), the Crow begins a fight with the Cockatoo. An epic battle begins during which the evil Crow throws a rock at the Cockatoo, injuring him. His friend the Eagle bears witness to this and comes to the Cockatoo's aid. She entices the Crow away with her sexual prowess, drawing him close to her with the promise of intercourse. But she is deceiving him and as the excited Crow gets closer, she throws molten spinifex wax on him, badly scalding his genitals. The Crow concedes victory and flies away, dejected and broken.
Artists connected to this western desert Tjukurpa have created various renditions of this curious and wicked story. For Whiskey, his depictions share a force that is unyielding, honest and beautiful. How can such a sinister story be captured with such delicacy? With Whiskey's work Country and rockholes near the Olgas, one doesn't need to know or strive to understand the story to be absorbed by the sheer brilliance of the artwork.
Whiskey passed away in 2008. He had been painting for less than five years, but had produced a prolific body of work. His paintings echo the raw beauty of the White Cockatoo Dreaming site. They also stand proudly alone as a complete and majestic body of work by a great artist whose contribution is yet to be fully realised. I can almost smell the embers of the fire smouldering at his home that day. Through his art, may it continue to burn forever.
This painting is sold with accompanying Watiyawanu Artists of Amunturrngu documentation.
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