Coral Designs, c.1965 natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark 62.0 x 22.0cm (24 7/16 x 8 11/16in).
PROVENANCE Lawsons, Aboriginal Art, Sydney, 13 September, 1994, lot 130 The Collection of Milton and Alma Roxanas, Sydney
The label attached verso reads: ''Deaf' TOMMY MUNGATOPI. Leader of the Mungatopi family for some years prior to his death in the early 1980s. The Mungatopi Clan is the land owner of the Milikapiti (Snake Bay) Melville Island area. He was a well known artist. Examples of his work are exhibited in the Darwin Museum. Pattern Bark (Con. BROB 10)'.
Cf. For similar contemporaneous paintings by the artist in the collection of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, see 'Moon, Morning and Evening Stars', in Kathy Barnes, Kiripapurajuwi (Skills of Our Hands): Good Craftsman and Tiwi Art, Darwin, 1999, p.43 (illus.); and Sun Shining on a Coral Reef, c.1970, in R. Crumlin and A. Knight, Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, Melbourne: Dove Publications, 1995, p.23, pl.4 (illus.); the latter work also in Sandra Le Brun Holmes, The Goddess and the Moon Man: The Secret Art of the Tiwi Aborigines, Sydney: Craftsman House, 1995, p.118 (illus.), Full Moon Reflected in the Sea in the Country of Purukapali.
The burst of energy suggested by the design in this painting is redolent with associations on a number of levels. Ostensibly, the painting depicts sunlight shimmering off the coral reefs at the eastern end of Melville Island. This is where women collect shellfish, however it is also the place where the main ancestor of the Tiwi, Purukaparli, carried the body of his baby son into the sea and drowned himself, thus bringing death to the Tiwi who had previously been immortal. The play of light on the water-covered reefs is expressed by the dashes of white, set against areas of dotting to create a scintillating effect, that in turn suggests ancestral presence in the place.
Mangatopi was one of the leading Tiwi artists of his generation and is represented in most major collections of Tiwi art, including those of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the National Museum of Australia and the Australian Museum.
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