Colleen Wallace, the artist, was born c. 1970 at Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa), south-east of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia. Her skin name is Nungarrayi and her language is Eastern Arrernte. Colleen started painting in 1990. This does not come as a surprise since her mother is the well known artist, Kathleen Wallace Kemarre. Colleen is married to Colin Bird Jungala, son of Ada Bird Petyarre and lives with her family at Mulga Bore (Akaye), about 250 km’s north-east of Alice Springs.
Mulga Bore is also the home of the famous Lindsay Bird who is the community elder there, but Colleen is quick to point out that she paints ‘on her own’, and is not part of a “Mulga Bore School” or anything similar.
She is an Eatern Arrernte speaker but also has fluent English as her second language. Colleen was educated at boarding schools in Melbourne and Darwin and has a very sound understanding of the commercial process and hence the ‘marketing’ of her work.
Her step-mother is Kathleen Wallace Kemarre who has dominated painting at the Santa Teresa community for two decades or more. From Kathleen, Colleen has learned to apply immaculate brushwork and her paintings now display qualities that few other desert painters have achieved. She was fortunate indeed to learn her art making at Santa Teresa, a community noted for its precise dotting and bright, decorative colour. As a result Colleen now has ‘six or seven’ different styles which range from women’s body paint designs (Annamurra), looking as if they might be painted with fingers, to the immaculate “Bush Spirit Sisters” which display an astonishing control over line pattern and effect, to typical Utopia paintings where she depicts in linear fashion the bush yam. Of the “Bush Spirit Sisters” Colleen says that, for her, they are a muses who will care for her in the bush. They are represented ‘painted up’ for ceremony. Apart from anything else it is clear that Colleen is a remarkable draftsperson.
Her success with ‘decorative’ paintings has not detracted from her traditional work. Colleen inherited the Yam Dreaming from her grandfather, Kenny Tilmouth Panangka. The yam has always been an important source of food in the Utopia area and accordingly she treats the painting of this subject with all the due respect. In this sense she is in accord with the work of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Anna Price Petyarre, Greeny Purvis and other leading painters from Utopia.
Colleen’s striking black and white designs represent the body paint associated with Awelye, where women sing and dance as they celebrate the spirit of the yam to ensure regeneration each year and to recognise the bountifulness of the current season. They may be regarded, partly, as ‘increase’ paintings.
Colleen’s paintings of the underground tubers of the yam are bold, colourful and precise. Using complementary colours in her designs Colleen depicts the yam, the vine and the flower at different times of the year – winter and summer.
Colleen’s paintings have featured in exhibitions nationally and internationally and are held in many private collections.