Lily Sandover Kngwarreye c.1937-2003

Top 200 Australian Aboriginal Artists Special Feature

Lily Sandover Kngwarreye
Lily Sandover Kngwarreye, Alhwert, Courtesy Coo-ee Aboriginal Art, 2002.

Country: Eastern Desert
Language: Alyawarr
Community: Utopia, Soakage Bore
Works Offered/Sold at Auction: 30/13
Total Sales at Auction to 2010: AUD$101,429.00
Highest result at Auction to 2010: AUD$21,510.00
Rank amongst Deceased Artists: 74
Rank amongst all artists of the movement: 114

Lily Sandover Kngwarreye c.1937-2003

Lily Sandover Kngwarreye was born c.1937 at MacDonald Downs on the Utopia clan lands. She began painting during the 1988-9 CAAMA summer workshop following almost a decade making batik. The adopted ‘sister’ of Emily Kngwarreye, Lily was her closest friend and constant companion often referring to her when in a humorous mood as ‘granny’.

The Sandover River, winds its way through the sprawling homelands of the Alyawarr people. The surrounding country is characterized by red sands dotted with ghost gums and, in season, with explosions of wildflowers set against piercing blue skies. The Alyawarr live in simple outstations adjacent to the river, which for much of the year is a wide sandy strip lined with dry silver grasses and shady trees.

Lily was the eldest daughter of senior Alyawarr elder Jacob Jones and she in turn became the senior woman for the site of Entibera. She painted the important Two Sisters stories and a range of stories about bush foods including Honey Grevillia.

When painting Emily Kngwarreye and Lily Sandover were inseparable companions. Lily looked after the older Emily closely, while painting her own works alongside. Lily painted hundreds of paintings over the years as she worked beside her friend and, right up until the last months of her life, Emily camped with Lily and their family on Delmore Downs. Her tribal country lies close to the homestead at Delmore Downs owned by the Holt family for whom Emily Kngwarreye painted more than 1500 paintings between 1989 and her death in 1996. Together Emily and Lily would travel and live for long periods on Delmore surrounded by an extended family that at times could grow to 40 women and children.

When an ‘official’ art centre, Urapuntja Artists, was established at Utopia Lily became a founding member and during this time she collaborated with Northern Editions to produce a number of etchings including 'Alhwert II' and 'Alhwert I’, now in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. The alhwert (pronounced 'allota') was a small burrowing bettong, or kangaroo rat, that is now extinct. The prints depict ‘iepa grass’, the traditional food source and home of the alhwert. The centre from which the patterns radiate is where the alhwert made its home. This became Lily Sandover’s defining image and the subject of the vast majority of her paintings.

Former art coordinator of Urapuntja Artists, Narayan Kozeluh who worked with Lily over many years noted in 2009 that when painting this image ‘Lily would place a heavily loaded painting stick of white onto a black canvas and in one fluid motion push it away creating swirling patterns that stylized the grass which her painting represented’. While best known for works in contrasting black and white she would occasionally apply other colours such as red acrylic on a yellow ochre ground.

In time Lily, like her father became a senior spokesperson for the Alyawarr people. She exhibited at Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi in 1989 and at the Hogarth Galleries and Coo-ee Galleries in Sydney during 1991 but failed to gain the recognition that many felt she deserved due to her restricted subject matter and the fact that she spent so much time in her more famous countrywoman’s shadow.

Thirty works by Lily Sandover have appeared at public auction since her work first appeared in 1994. In that first year four works were offered of which only one sold for $1,725. Her success rate remained at a low 42% until 2005 when five works were offered and all sold for a total value of $59,247. Her results have continued to be mixed since that time leaving her current clearance rate at 43% and total sales at auction $101, 429. While her best result to date is the $21,510 achieved for a 120 x 150 cm work carrying Delmore provenance at Christies in 2005, no less than 6 works have sold for more than $9000. Christies and Lawson~Menzies have championed this artist in the secondary market sharing 8 of her 13 successful sales and generating 76% of her auction sales total. Sandover was a relatively prolific artist for a no more than six years and the majority of her works were small and of relatively minor importance. Major works are limited, especially paintings on the scale of the one illustrated here.

This major piece depicting Ayippa (Iepa) Grass was part of a collection of 12 specially commissioned major works by Utopia women artists in 1997 and curated and overseen by Urapunja artists. The collection included works by Poly Ngal, Kathleen Ngal and Angelina Ngal, as well as Gloria Petyarre, Kathleen Petyarre and Violet Petyarre and was broken up in 2008.

While Lily Sandover had only one solo exhibition in 1991 in Melbourne, her work was included in a number of important group shows during her lifetime. They included exhibitions with Stéphane Jacob's Arts d'Australie in Paris, Flash Pictures at the National Gallery of Australia, and works from the Holmes a Court Collection which toured Scotland and a number of USA venues including Harvard University, University of Minnesota, and Lake Oswego Center for the Arts.

She is represented in the collections of the Netherlands Aboriginal Art Museum in Utrecht, The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, The Holmes a Court Collection, Perth and a number of important private collections in Australia and overseas.

This review is by Adrian Newstead, a leading Aboriginal art consultant.

As part of this informative series, Adrian profiles a selection of Australia's 200 highest selling and most successful living and deceased Aboriginal artists. Each profile contains the artist's primary and secondary market results. They have been written to assist collectors in learning more about the artists behind the paintings, and the place of each artist in the history of the development of specific regional styles.

Adrian Newstead is the owner of Cooee Gallery in Bondi, Sydney. Statistics supplied by the AASD (Australian Art Sales Digest) which ranks artists according to performance indicators relating to secondary market sales.



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