Kathleen Petyarre

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Kathleen Petyarre (born 1940) is an eminent Australian Aboriginal artist, known for her paintings displaying an extremely refined layering technique with intricate dotting. Her art refers directly to her country and her Dreamings. However, the vastness of the country can be clearly felt in the landscapes of Petyarre's paintings, which have occasionally been compared to the works of American Abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, and even to those of J.M.W. Turner. They have been described as: "magisterial works that can be likened to symphonic compositions" (Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA). Petyarre's painstaking and virtuosic method of applying countless dots with kebab sticks of various sizes means she typically spends many days, sometimes weeks, on one canvas and has thus avoided the dangers of overproduction, widespread in Aboriginal art.


Kathleen Petyarre was born at Atnangkere, an important water soakage for Aboriginal people on the western boundary of Utopia Station, 150 miles north-east of Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territory. She belongs to the Alyawarre/Eastern Anmatyerre clan and speaks Eastern Anmatyerre, with English as her second language. Kathleen, with her daughter Margaret and her sisters, settled at Iylenty (Mosquito Bore) at Utopia Station, near her birthplace. She started working in batik in 1977 when an adult education instructor, Jenny Green, arrived in Utopia and organised batik workshops. Kathleen Petyarre lives at Utopia Station to this day, but now also spends part of the year at her residence in Adelaide.

In 1996 she was the winner of the 13th Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. Controversy arose in 1997 when Petyarre's estranged partner of ten years, Ray Beamish, claimed that he had had a hand in the execution of the winning painting. This controversy, which shook the Aboriginal art market at the time, resulted in much stricter emphasis being put on the documentation of authorship in Aboriginal paintings. Her name was eventually cleared, and she retained her award.

Her considerable reputation as one of the most original indigenous artists has since been confirmed nationally and internationally by her regular inclusion in exhibitions at the most reputed museums and galleries. A book about her art, ' 'Genius of Place' ', was published in 2001 in conjunction with a solo exhibition of her works at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, and her paintings can be found in public and private collections all over the world. Her work has been selected, along with just a handful of Aboriginal artists, for inclusion in the permanent collection of the new Musée du quai Branly in Paris.

The last few years, from about 2003-2004 onwards, have seen a bolder style emerge, with clusters of larger dots and stronger lines alongside the very fine textures for which the artist is known. While this style has been decried in some quarters as being less refined, it has also been hailed as being a logical artistic development towards a more powerful and dramatic mode of expression, "perhaps more abstract, certainly more modern in its technicality and presentation".[1]

Kathleen Petyarre is one of the most sought-after living Aboriginal artists. She has been repeatedly nominated by the influential journal Australian Art Collector as being among 'the 50 most collectable artists in Australia'. She has several sisters who are also well-known artists, among them Gloria, Violet, Myrtle and Jeanna Petyarre. Kathleen's works consistently show the highest degree of innovation, and are in great demand and likely to fetch the highest prices at auction.[2]


  • 1996 Overall Winner of the Telstra 13th National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award, Darwin, NT, Australia.
  • 1997 Overall Winner of the Visy Board Art Prize, the Barossa Vintage Festival Art Show, Nurioopta SA, Australia.
  • 1998 Finalist, 1998 Seppelts Contemporary Art Award - Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, NSW Australia.
  • 1998 Winner, People's Choice Award, 1998 Seppelts Contemporary Art Award, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Selected exhibitions[edit]

  • 1991 Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, Ireland
  • 1995 Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen, Germany
  • 1998 Arnkerrthe - My Dreaming, Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne VIC, Australia, 24 July - 15 August
  • 1999 Recent Paintings by Kathleen Petyarre, Coo-ee Gallery, Mary Place, Sydney, NSW, Australia, 4–21 November
  • 2000 Kathleen Petyarre, Retrospective Exhibition, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, NSW, Australia
  • 2000 New Directions in Contemporary Aboriginal Painting, Songlines Gallery, San Francisco CA, USA
  • 2001 Genius of Place. The work of Kathleen Petyarre. Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney NSW, Australia
  • 2002 Gallerie Commines, Paris, France
  • 2006 Galerie Clément, Vevey, Switzerland
  • 2006 Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA
  • 2006 National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC, USA
  • 2006 Prism - Contemporary Australian Art at the Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan
  • 2007 Galerie Rigassi, Bern, Switzerland
  • 2007 Gallery Anthony Curtis, Boston MA, USA

Major collections[edit]


  1. Brody, Ann, Contemporary Aboriginal Art from the Robert Holmes a Court Collection, 1990, Ann Brody, Plate 45, pp. 67
  2. Utopia Women's Paintings: The First Works on Canvas, A Summer Project 1989, Anne Brody, Catalogue No.7
  3. Utopia - A Picture Story, 88 Silks batiks from the Robert Holmes a Court Collection, 1990, Anne Brody, pp. 50, 51, 34
  4. The Art of Utopia: A New Direction in Contemporary Aboriginal Art, 1991 Michael Boulter, plate 19, pp. 83, plate 53, pp. 157
  5. Dreamings of the Desert, Art Gallery of South Australia, 1996, pp. 111
  6. Dreampower, Art of Contemporary Aboriginal Australia, 1997, David Cossey, Museum Art International, pp. 16 & 17
  7. Expanse: Aboriginalities, spatialities and the politics of ecstasy, an exhibition by Ian North. Art Museum University of South Australia, 1998, pp. 3, 5, 6, 8, 12, 22, 23
  8. Raiki Wara, Long Cloth from Aboriginal Australia and the Torres Strait, Judith Ryan, National Gallery of Victoria, 1998
  9. Art Monthly: Kathleen Petyarre and the Heroic Odyssey of Arnekerrth, pp 7 – 9, October 1998, Number 114
  10. Treasures, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, pp. 145, 182. 1998
  11. Seppelt Contemporary Art Awards MCA 1998 Catalogue, pp. 14–18, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, NSW
  12. Aboriginal Art, Howard Morphy, Arts & Ideas, Phaidon Press Limited, 1998, London, UK. pp. 309, 310, 442
  13. The Times Higher Education Supplement, London, UK. 3 March 1998, pg. 30, 31
  14. Telstra, 15th National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award Catalogue, 1998, Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, pg. 4, 38,39
  15. Recent Paintings by Kathleen Petyarre, catalogue, 1999, Gallerie Australis, Adelaide, South Australia
  16. Karra, a project of the Telstra Festival 2000 presented by the Visual Art Department, Adelaide Festival Centre, catalogue, 2000, pp., 18, 19, 27,30 31
  17. The Return of Beauty, Editor, Margot Osborne, Jam Factory Contemporary Craft & Design, Adelaide, South Australia, pp., 9,22,23,28,29,30
  18. Beyond The Pale, Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art 2000, Art Gallery of South Australia, curated by Brenda L. Croft, catalogue, Adelaide, 2000, pp., 14,65 - 69, 99, 105, 112
  19. Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia, Vol., 32 No's., 1 & 2. pp. 1 – 32
  20. Across – An exhibition of indigenous Art and Culture, ANU Canberra School of Art Gallery, curated by Doreen Mellor, catalogue published ANU Canberra School of Art Gallery, 2000, pp. 3,4,11
  21. Spiritualidad y arte Aborigen Australiano, Comuidad de Madrid, Consejeria De Cultura, Madrid, Spain, 2001
  22. Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art & Culture, ed. Klienert & Neale, 2000, pp. 672 – 673, pl. 259
  23. Genius of Place, The Work of Kathleen Petyarre, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, author Christine Nicholls
  24. Genius of Place, Kathleen Petyarre, monograph, published Wakefield Press, 2001, Essays by Christine Nicholls, Prof. Ian North
  25. Sisters/Yakkananna, Kahui Mareikura Exhibition, Tandanya, Adelaide, South Australia, 3 March – 28 April 2002, published by National Aboriginal Cultural Institute – Tandanya, page 8,16


  1. ^ Gallerie Australis website
  2. ^ Record price to date: $80,000 at Deutscher-Menzies on 25 March 2009 for Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming, 2008 (synthetic polymer paint on Belgian linen, 184.0 x 245.0 cm); inscribed verso: GAKP1108537/ KATHLEEN PETYARRE
  3. ^ "The Holmes à Court Collection". Holmes à Court Gallery. Archived from the original on 19 July 2008. Retrieved 13 January 2011. 

External links[edit]