Art Essays

Noŋgirrŋa Marawili – Alcaston Galleries, Melbourne

Published February 2, 2019
Noŋgirrŋa Marawili, 'Lightning' (2017)

Artist: Noŋgirrŋa Marawili

Lives: Yirrkala, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory

Age:80 (b. c.1938)

Represented by:Alcaston Galleries, Melbourne & Australia-wide

Her thing. Innovative bark paintings and prints on traditional Yolngu themes.

Our take.At the age of 80, or thereabouts, Noŋgirrŋa Marawili is emerging as one of the most dynamic indigenous artists at work today. This is usually a good age for those Aboriginal painters who take up art late in life.

Marawili’s first bark paintings were made in the early 1990s when she began to assist her artist husband, Djutjadjtja. Those early, collaborative barks were highly accomplished but conventional in style. It’s only over the past 5-6 years that her work has developed a striking originality. A survey exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW – NoŋgirrŋaMarawili: From My Heart and Mind– concentrates heavily on these late pictures which have been eagerly acquired by museums and leading private collectors.

Marawili has spent her life participating in ceremony but she says there is nothing sacred about her paintings. Her themes are primal and elemental: rocks, fire, lightning, the surge of the sea. She has invented her own set of motifs, from the densely netted forms of Yathikpa(2013) (cat.ref.28.2014) to the floating geometric shapes and fierce colour of Lightning (2017) (cat. ref.191.2017), which has been painted on a sheet of aluminium. Both these works have been acquired for the permanent collection of the AGNSW.

Can I afford it?

Marawili’s record price is $20,000 for a work of 2016-17. Her larger barks (approx. 214cm by 80cm) are priced at $16-18,000, while the smaller barks (aprox. 87cm by 59cm) sell for $10,000. Works on paper painted in ochre and pigment (approx. 76cm by 56cm) sell for $1,500. It’s worth noting that major pieces by Australia’s most celebrated living bark painter, John Mawurndjul, now sell for sums in excess of $100,000. By this standard Marawili’s prices remain accessible, but they are much sought-after and the exposure at the AGNSW will bring new admirers. Works sold quickly at her most recent show at Alcaston Gallery in November last year.

Where can I have a squiz?

NoŋgirrŋaMarawili: From My Heart and Mind, Art Gallery of NSW, 3 November, 2018 – 24 February, 2019. (or