Emily Kame Kngwarreye is one of the most prominent and successful artists in the history of Contemporary Indigenous Australian art.
Born in 1910, Emily did not take up painting seriously until she was nearly 80. She was born and lived in the Anmatyerre language group at Alhalkere in the Utopia community, about 250 km north east of Alice Springs.
She is quoted “I did batik at first, and then after doing that I learned more and more and then I changed over to painting for good. Then it was canvas. I gave up on fabric to avoid all the boiling to get the wax out. I got a bit lazy – I gave it up because it was too much hard work.”
Emily went through many different individual styles in her short career as a professional painter. In 1992, she began to join the dots into lines with parallel horizontal and vertical stripes, representing rivers and terrain, in many different colours. She began using larger brushes than previously. Her later paintings were based on much larger dots than the finer, more intricate work which she did when she started.
In 1993 she began painting patches of colour along with many dots, which were like rings that were clear in the middle. In 1995 she ended what critics called her 'colourist' phase and began painting with plain stripes that crossed the canvas.
Eight paintings by Emily in the Sotheby's winter auction of 2000 put together were sold for $507,550, with Awelye (1989) selling for $156,500. In 2000, Emily's work was amongst that of eight individual and collaborative groups of indigenous Australian artists shown in the prestigious Nicholas Hall at the Hermitage Museum in Russia. The exhibition received a positive reception from Russian critics, one of whom wrote:
This is an exhibition of contemporary art, not in the sense that it was done recently, but in that it is cased in the mentality, technology and philosophy of radical art of the most recent times. No one, other than the Aborigines of Australia, has succeeded in exhibiting such art at the Hermitage.