Born at Yalantijirri near Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route, Eubena Nampitjin moved to the Catholic mission that had been established 5 years earlier near the northern reaches of Lake Gregory in 1948. In 1962 the mission moved to Wirrimanu (Balgo Hills) where there was a more permanent water supply and thereafter became a melting pot of tribal peoples drawn from the cusp of the Tanami and Great Sandy Deserts. The Wangkajunga, Walmajarri, Kukata, Walpiri, Ngarti and Djaru people congregated there as life became more and more difficult on their traditional land.
While the people of Balgo Hills heard of the emergence of the Papunya art movement from Pintupi when they visited the mission to take part in ceremony in 1971, their own art movement did not begin until the mid 1980’s. The confluence of up to 10 different Aboriginal traditions in this one community resulted in a degree of flexibility in the practice of law, art and ritual. Since many of the older generation left the desert as mature adults, the majority of their paintings relate strongly to their land and are expressed from a personal or experiential perspective. Eubena did not begin painting until the second art coordinator, Michael Rae, extended the opportunity to paint beyond the Adult Education Centre to the camps that had established themselves around the fringes of the mission. Canvases were delivered and collected on a weekly rotation and it was common for husbands and wives to complete canvases together. This was certainly the case with Eubena Nampitjin, who developed her aesthetic alongside her second husband, Wimmitji Tjapangarti. They began collaborating in 1988 and their art flourished under Rae’s guidance. Though Wimmitji and Eubena initially worked in earthy brown and red toning with areas of white dotting and lines, by 1989 they began experimenting with soft floral patterns transforming the complex dotting and compositions that characterise their work into delicately beautiful and opulent paintings. Their early works portrayed Dreaming sites, country, and ancestral travels in the most intimate cartographic detail and are, to this day, the very finest paintings that have ever emanated from the community. Whether these paintings were attributed to Wimmitji or Eubena was always simply a matter of chance. Canvases were delivered and names were transcribed on to the back prior to handing them to the artists. They were never attributed to both husband and wife. As the art centre flourished and demand for their paintings grew, Wimmitji began painting less and Eubena increasingly painted on her own. After the death of her daughter Ema Gimme Nungerayai in 1993, Eubena returned to Well 33 and did not paint again until encouraged to return to Balgo Hills two years later. From that time on she painted alone with larger, freer dots and a more gestural style executed with a palate of red, yellow and pink. In time these late career works became more akin to finger painting with fluid brushstrokes and only the occasional intimate section actually dotted with a stick.
While Balgo’s physical isolation has conferred the space to evolve a distinct and unique artistic style, Eubena’s own separation from her homeland has manifested as an art of absence, an act of homage, which has crystallised the poignancy of her country in her works. The sense of raw energy and spontaneity in her work with her trademark use of vibrant colour, bold patterning, and rough and ready handling creates an 'extraordinary sense of presence,' that overrides any connotations of the work as an object of anthropological significance and invites the viewer 'to appreciate pictures for their immediate visual impact as works of contemporary art' (McDonald 1995).
Eubena’s art transported her 'way into her country, re-inhabiting it brush mark by brush mark, like walking or breathing' (Mahood 2005: 18). She perpetually renewed this sense of country, tirelessly sitting in her customary position on the floor of the art centre, painting for hours on end. She stated 'I like painting from my heart … I like to do paintings, big ones, to keep my spirit strong. Really good. I don’t get tired doing big ones, sometimes I do them in one day. My spirit keeps me strong' (cited in Alexander 2004: V1).
120 x 80cm
#11390 LOCATION: Bondi Beach
42.0 x 36.0 cm
#1246 LOCATION: Bondi Beach