human behavior

Aboriginal art: Patricia Spencer Nungurrayi

Posted in Art, Australian Culture & Politics, Race & Ethnicity by humanb on December 2, 2009

I bought this Aboriginal painting as a birthday present for my mother in Virginia. I picked it up when I bought this one for myself.

I’ve been holding on to it for months until I could send it to the US for her birthday, which is today. She should’ve opened it by now.

The artist is named Patricia Spencer Nungurrayi according to the back of the canvas. I have no idea what the painting is called or who she is.

I couldn’t find her through a Google search or in the Dictionary of Australian Artists Online. So she’s a mystery, and so is her painting.

This means I can speculate wildly about the painting’s meaning. Alas, my interpretation was pretty conservative in the end.

I call this painting Watering Holes:

Acrylic on canvas, 18x24, Patricia Spencer Nungurrayi

I’m not a big fan of the Aboriginal dot-style of painting, but this painting stood out from a pile of similarly-styled paintings and spoke to me. I find it rich and yet modest. Bold, but meticulous. Phallic, yet feminine. And dense, while paradoxically reminiscent of Australia’s great open interior. The colors are natural – that of the desert and its wildlife – slightly subdued and dusty, but with a natural vibrancy. The lizards are appropriately simplistic, suggesting their role as symbols, while strongly evoking a tribal art tradition.

To me this painting so obviously depicts a tribal land of walking routes, sacred places and watering holes. Nungurrayi is telling us “This is where I hail from. This is my home – not some built-up, but run-down white man’s town. This is where my heart lives, where my spirit will return when I die.”

This is art as biography – granted, with me rewriting her story. But that’s all any art lover does.

Anyway, I think it’s lovely.

Happy birthday Mom.

with love, humanb.



2 Responses

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  1. William Waites said, on December 3, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    You have tapped into one of the world’s few truly ethnic art genres. The Nungarrayi name is shared with several other Aboriginal painters. Specifically, Gabriella Possum and her deceased father, Master Painter Clifford Possum.

    Your interpretation of the painting is remarkable accurate, especially if you are as unknowledgable about Australian Aboriginal desert dot painting as you confess to be. Each of these paintings represents an impressionistic cartography of the artist’s home country, with the key geographical and cultural (dreamtime) elements shown as symbols.

    I agree these paintings are very forceful and transmit strong feelings of connection to the lands they portray. Yet, there is a graphic, aesthetic quality that adds vibrancy to any wall where it is hung, in my opinion.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  2. humanb said, on December 3, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Thank you William for your comment. I do know that Australian Aboriginal art often has tribal myths, rituals and maps as themes, but that is the extent of my knowledge.

    I see from your website that you promote Native American art as well. I will be returning home to the USA this weekend for an extended visit, and will be driving from La Vegas to New Mexico. One of the things that excites me most is the opportunity to see Native American art on my road trip.

    Thanks for reading,


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