Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) is currently holding a retrospective of the vibrant Aboriginal artist Mavis Ngallametta. The exhibition; Show me the way to go home, is not to be missed, Ngallametta is one of Queensland’s most important contemporary Aboriginal artists, her passing in 2019 was truly a great loss to the Australian art world.
Ngallametta had only began painting in 2008 at the age of 64, she was previously recognised as a master weaver and the current exhibition contains three woven works but it is her paintings that established her as a master of colour and meaning.
There is a kind of familial, warmth and joy to Ngallametta’s work that adds to the immediacy and accessibility of her paintings, despite their obvious complexity and depth. Looking at a Ngallametta painting is like experiencing a Welcome to country. Her art welcomes you into her world, her land or land she was associated with, her story. A Ngallametta painting is an experience. An experience to be lingered over. It is easy to be drawn into her vibrant, alive world. Her paintings depict the places she knew and loved, scatted in her monumental canvases are people, plants and animals portrayed as being intimate parts of that loved landscape. Her paintings utilise ochres and clays from areas she represents, everything about her art is anchored in the landscape and the environment. They are paintings that invite mindful contemplation of our own place in the environment as well as respect for Ngallametta’s story.
Water seems to always underlie her images from the vibrant, blue base she starts with on her canvases to the portrayal of a lapping sea on the edges of her world or the vibrant alive Pamp (swamp) paintings that teem with joyous life. Perspective is interesting, she is playful and adventurous with perspective making you think about where you are in a landscape.
The land and its timeless nature is pivotal in all of the paintings. In the bushfire, cultural burning paintings she captures the rejuvenating, life giving nature of cultural burning practices and the sense that all time is present in any moment, in a moment of destruction is also a moment of rejuvenation. The birds still pepper her canvas while fire burns even small birds, chicks seem to emerge from trees. All life and all seasons seem entwined in her paintings, all moments seem present, all time entwined in any one moment. It is a magical perspective to experience.
Photos do not really do justice to any of the pieces and I urge anyone who can, to go see it. For me, experiencing these paintings was a bit like experiencing Monet’s great monumental waterlilies paintings and her use of colour and perspective would have thrilled Van Gogh but Ngallametta does not need comparison to others, she is very much a unique visual voice and an artist whose work I absolutely love. I love her joyous vision of the landscape, of the environment and the timeless quality she brings to that portrait of place. She has shown me how to look at the world with fresh eyes, she has shown me how to go home.
The pandemic temporarily closed QAG but they are open again and this wonderful exhibition is completely free. When they closed, QAG posted some great short videos of the collection that are well worth viewing, you can access them from this page:https://www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/whats-on/exhibitions/mavis-ngallametta Due to the pandemic you also need to book your entry to QAG and you can do that from that same page. If you see the exhibition let me know what you think and leave a comment.