Gloria Tamerre Petyarre
During the late 1970s Gloria was a founding member of the Utopia Women’s batik Group. Her Aunty, the famous Emily Kame Kngwarreye, was there from the beginning and together niece and aunty played a most influential role as the art of Utopia began to form.
Gloria painted her first canvas for CAAMA’s “Summer Project” exhibition in 1988-9 and hence was amongst the very first painters in the ‘new way’ at Utopia. The following year she travelled to Ireland, London and India as a representative of the Utopia women, accompanying the “Utopia: A Picture Story” exhibition. Then, in 1991, she had her first solo show at ‘Utopia Arts’, Sydney, under the guidance of Christopher Hodges.
There is little doubt that Gloria benefitted greatly from the close association with Emily Kame and the other Aboriginal painters as they emerged as a group at Utopia. She, like the others, continually drew on her past experiences of life in their country with its attendant ritual and ceremonies. Her subjects were always close at hand … part of her very being. Furthermore, she was always a ‘natural’ painter with an assured technique.
Seeing her paint, brush in hand, brings the realization that she is highly accomplished. One may be lucky enough to hear Gloria gently sing her way through the many verses that comprise the song of the ‘Medicine Leaf’. The singing takes the form of short, rhythmic verses, which can produce, in her, a trance-like state. Traditionally this was a lead in to ceremonial performance and dance. All of this was accompanied by body painting.
Gloria will tell you that each of her ‘dreaming’s’ carries with it a traditional, ancient song. Her singing combined with the gentle flow of paint from her brush promotes the idea that this is, in truth, a ‘performance’ that is substituting for an ancient ceremony. When the ‘performance’ is complete the resulting object, the painting, is incidental.
Gloria Petyarre's Dreamings
Gloria Petyarre is responsible for one of the most popular and most frequently painted images in the history of Australian art "Leaves". Painting "Leaves" represent bush medicine leaves that have fallen to the ground in season and formed swirling patterns. The leaf is from the Eremophila Dalyana shrub, the common name of which is the Desert Fuschia. For many generations Gloria’s clan has relied on this shrub to form the basis of a bush medicine that is effective for kidney problems. Gloria recalls that she painted this for the first time in April 1994 at Mosquito Bore, Utopia.
The artist has painted a number of other subjects that have recurred frequently throughout her painting career. These include Awelye and Arnkerrthe (Mountain Devil Lizard [Moloch horridus}) which represent her traditional ties to country and the mythology of her people. Frequently these take the form of women’s body paint designs for ceremony and are reduced to designs and patterns of a minimal nature. In her earlier work Gloria concentrated on body designs and it was noted that, ‘the number of computations and permutations she has derived from this deceptively simple system of marks has shown her to be a powerful and expressive painter of note. Although simple they nevertheless carry profound messages which resonate in her society.
Gloria is most often described as an innovative and dynamic painter and is, indeed, always prepared to experiment. She is the niece of the most famous of all of the painters from Utopia, Emily Kngwarreye. ‘Awelye’, which they have both painted prolifically, refers to the specific and the general, or in Emily Kngwarreye’s summing up, ‘the whole lot, everything’. Ceremonies are designed to celebrate an ancient body of knowledge which is defined and brought into the present by the singing, dancing and body painting undertaken.
Arnkerrthe (Mountain Devil Lizard) is a special case because the associated dreaming is peculiar to the Utopia area. The Petyarre sisters, and brothers, are attached to this lizard by custodial rights and tell and retell its story. Oral history coming down through the family, combined with body paint designs employed by their parents and grandparents, has ensured that that the mythology and ‘dreamings’ live on. The stories tell of the mountain devil’s travels across country creating ‘dreaming trails’ or ‘songlines’. The very basis of a clan group was survival for all and notions of sharing were central in their daily lives. Ideas about, and schemes for navigation through the desert were also passed on in this way. Accordingly oral history, singing, dancing, chanting and body painting stood in for the literary tradition that is dominant in the Western world.
The Thorny Mountain Devil Lizard (Moloch horridus) is the sole species of the genus Moloch. It grows up to 20cms long and is camouflaged in desert colours which darken when the animal is cold. Furthermore authorities say, ‘The species is entirely covered with conical spines that are mostly uncalcified. It also features a spiny "false-head" on the back of the neck, the animal presents this to a potential predator by dipping its real head. Females are larger than males. The Thorny Devil's body is ridged in structure, and helps the animal collect water which is channelled to the mouth’.
More importantly, both Gloria and Kathleen Petyarre say that the Thorny Mountain Devil Lizard carries their ‘dreamings’ on its back. The ancestral lizard is said to have deep associations with the bush medicines, grasses, plants and the various bush foods which permeate Gloria’s country Anungura. Impressively, the lizard can withstand drought and the very dry conditions of its desert environment. Seemingly it does not need to have access to water. Such qualities are prized amongst desert people and revered in the harsh, natural environment in which they themselves have survived so well.