Dorothy Napangardi 1956-2013

Top 200 Australian Aboriginal Artists Special Feature

Dorothy Napangardi
Dorothy Napangardi, Travelling Women My Country Mina Mina, Courtesy Aboriginal Art Directory Gallery

Country: Tanami Desert, NT
Language: Warlpiri
Community: Yuendumu
Works Offered/Sold at Auction: 152/84
Total Sales at Auction to 2010: AUD$2,178,240.00
Highest result at Auction to 2010: AUD$129,750.00
Rank amongst Living Artists: 3
Rank amongst all artists of the movement: 17

Dorothy Napangardi 1956-2013

Dorothy Napangardi grew up at Mina Mina near Lake Mackay in the Tanami Desert until her family was forcibly moved into the government settlement at Yuendumu. After marrying an elderly man to whom she had been promised at a young age she moved to Alice Springs where she brought up five daughters. She began painting in 1987 in her early 30’s.

Her early paintings depicted the Bush Plum, Bush Banana, and other wild fruits that grow in abundance near Mina Mina. These exhibited a superb sense of composition as semi-naturalistic plants interwove in geometric formations. They clearly marked her as an artist of great talent.

From the outset she painted exclusively for Roslyn Premont’s Gallery Gondwana in Todd Mall. Their close personal relationship and the studio environment in which she worked provided the security that enabled Dorothy to experiment freely and develop her artistic repertoire rapidly through the early 1990’s.

In 1997 Dorothy began producing the paintings for which she gained national acclaim. These traced the grid-like patterns of the salt encrustations on the Mina Mina claypans, marking a significant shift in her work. Her paintings became less contrived and increasingly spare with detail pared back to the barest essentials. They related to the travels of the large group of ancestral women known as the Karntakurlangu. As these works developed, Dorothy created mimetic grids representing the salt encrustations across the claypans. Lines of white dots traced the movements of her female ancestors as they danced their way, in joyous exultation, through the saltpans, spinifex and sand hills.

In 2001 Dorothy Napangardi won the 18th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. The following year she had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Considerable commercial success followed and her works ranked amongst the most expensive of any living artists. As a result many other dealers began to tempt her in to painting for them outside of her relationship with Premont. These ‘outside ‘ works vary greatly in quality.

The painting illustrated is a good example of Dorothy’s finest work. It was created in her most recent style, which developed from 2008 onward. Here the striated dotting imparts the feeling of the rolling sandhill country studded with spinifex grasses beyond the claypans. This large, dramatic work, measures 168 x 244 cm.

Despite the beauty of her highly accomplished and colourful Bush Plum and Bush Banana works, works in this style have attracted very little interest when compared to the more abstracted paintings created after 1997. Her most successful paintings at auction have featured a network of closely knit interconnected dotted squares which build to form duotone patterned grids on dark, most often back, backgrounds. All of her highest ten sales have been for works produced between 2000 and 2003 with the next ten results created between 1997 and 2002. (It is cautionary to note that the highest price paid for any work created post 2003 is the $20,400 paid for a 2006 painting sold at Lawson~Menzies in 2008. This is her 39th highest record.)

Dorothy Napangardi is an artist of the highest caliber and her highest auction results during the last 6 years have resulted in her having one of the best records for any living artist. This may not last indefinitely however. She is only a relatively young woman and, at just 50 years of age, should have many productive years ahead of her. The heat her career generated between late 1990’s and 2003 has cooled considerably during the past 5 years. For her reputation to continue to grow, her repertoire must develop further. Her current art practice is also being adversely affected by the quantity of ‘copycat paintings’ that are currently being produced by members of her family and others, and sold under her name. Nevertheless Dorothy Napangardi is one of a very small handful of living Aboriginal artists capable of true genius. Her paintings can at times be so beautiful and ethereal, as to boarder on the sublime.

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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