79 Career Overall Rank
- 2016 Market Rank
With the passing of many of the senior male artists, Elizabeth Nyumi Nungurrayi is now Warlayirti artists most successful living artist. In order to secure a major work through the art centre you need to be on a waiting list, or buy through her occasional gallery exhibitions.
She began painting in 1988 and was largely undistinguished until the mid 1990s. Her technique developed over the years until 1997, when she began creating works that, although not altogether successful, led to her most familiar and polular style by 1999. In these works, often simply titled Parwalla, the icons, rather than being connected by a series of wavy dotted lines, appear through a shimmering haze of overlaid white and creamy dots.
Nyumi’s highest price was achieved at Lawson~Menzies in November 2005 when Parwalla 2000, a 180 x 120 cm work on linen, sold for $43,200. To purchase a work of this size directly from the Balgo Hills art centre would have cost $21,600 at the time. Her second highest result was for a work from her transitional period. This 180 x 120 cm painting on linen titled Minjali, near Kiwirrkurra, WA 1999 sold for $23,400 in Shapiro’s July 2004 auction. At the Christie's sale held in Melbourne during July the following year collectors should have been kicking themselves for having failed to purchase another wonderful painting Parwalla 2002, measuring 180 x 120 cm which was passed in despite being a steal at its incredibly low estimate of just $15,000-20,000.
Although her highest result represents an encouraging 100% increase in value over five years, the average price for a 120 x 180 cm works has been just $20,232 and 150 x 90 cm works average $13,500. These results are well below the artist’s current primary market prices, which would indicate that it is far too soon to be selling her most desirable high quality pieces. Most were painted post 2000 and it would seem advisable to hold on to anything purchased through galleries for no less than ten years before offering them for sale at auction. A perfect example is the major 121 x 295 cm work bought from Warlayirti artists in 2007 which was offered for sale through Lawson~Menzies at their November sale that same year (Lot 71). The painting was still ‘wet’ and carried a high estimate of $70,000-90,000. Works of this size and quality have never been obtainable through the official art centre and its representative galleries. Regardless, it failed to attract a buyer during a sale in which other impressive contemporaraneous and equally rare paintings by several other artists were far more successful.
Three works were offered during 2015 and all sold. All measured approximately 150 x 90 cm, but while two entered her top 10 results at 5th and 10th, the other sold for a fraction of its value when offered in Bonham's Thomas Vroom Collection sale in Sydney. One lucky buyer picked up a painting carrying Vroom provenancne worth no less than $15,000-20,000 for only $5,856.
The sale rate for Nyumi seems reasonable at 57% with 48 of the 84 offered at auction finding new homes. The majority of those that have failed to sell have been works in her earlier styles and Parwalla paintings have tended to sell for up to three times the prices achieved for equivalent sized works from an earlier period.
While images depicting Parwalla have been responsible for her highest prices in both the primary and secondary market, many of her earlier works are none-the-less worth collecting. They are currently undervalued, and serious collectors would do well to consider paintings produced during several periods to add variety and interest to their collection. These paintings may not necessarily suit the current fashion for austere minimalism but they are highly accomplished and distinctive paintings that should prove to be a canny investment given the low prices for which they can currently be acquired, and the artist’s stature as a major figure in the art of the region.
Born in 1947, Elizabeth Nyumi’s early years were spent some three hundred of kilometers south of Balgo near Jupiter Well where she lived a nomadic life until she walked up the Canning Stock Route and into the old Balgo Mission in her late teens. This migration was not atypical nor, realistically, a choice for many indigenous people in the area. Their precious water supply was lost when the wells were fenced off and subsequently polluted by herds of cattle. Though Nyumi began painting in acrylics for the Warlayirti Art Centre in 1988, her earliest paintings on canvas could be seen as a contemporary continuation of a lifetime of sand drawing, the traditional visual component of story-telling that is often accompanied by a chanted narrative. This primary influence was evident in both her use of colour tonality, and, in her earlier work, her use of a stick to apply paint to the canvas. Through the early 1990’s her paintings evolved as she experimented with the newly adopted acrylic medium on canvass. While initially similar in style to works of many of her contemporary female Balgo painters, her work gave way to a more textured surface with the adoption of the brush to apply paint in 1995. Though the underlying structures of the works remained relatively constant, her style became looser and more vibrant with a penchant for luminous colours, the signature mark of the Warlayirti artists.
As with the majority of Balgo artists, Nyumi’s passion for painting has been driven by an innate desire to reconnect to her country through her work. The blank canvas is handled with a kind of urgency as 'she runs her hand over it explaining how she will paint her country: this way, that way, over here- she has no doubts about what she will paint' (Williamson & Togni 2004: 576). The clarity with which Nyumi plans her compositions concerning her country seems at odds with the vast distance separating her from Tapinna/Nyunkun near Jupiter Well, where she was born. This is the paradox that exists for Nyumi, as with many of the Balgo artists in which the separation from their tradition lands only heightens the sense of importance in recreating their country 'like an incantation to keep the image alive and present in her mind' (O’brien 2004: 64). However these paintings, as works of art, transcend the finite preoccupation with nostalgia through the intimate knowledge they convey. If art, 'is the attention we pay to the wholeness of things' (Alexander 2004: 6), then Nyumi’s ability to make us question our own connection to nature, to re-conceptualise the meaning of our own land, reaches art’s pinnacle. The vision in her work is a distant cry from the Western eye, searching for the ever-present, beckoning horizon, 'a point beyond which one is always drawn to discover what is there. Aboriginal people know already, or they don’t need to know' (Mahood 2005: 15). Instead, drawing on influences from sand drawing, ideas of touching, piercing and penetrating the horizontal surface of the ground 'is as dominating a concept as the horizon is in Western conceptions of vertical space' (O’brien 2004: 64).
Beginning around 1999, Nyumi began painting significantly more spacious and minimal works, accompanied by a dramatic restriction in palate, in which yellow and white became dominant. In these and subsequent works, melting textures create an exquisite play with light. A blanket of cream dots rest almost weightlessly over subtly submerged layers. Through this ‘powdered blanket’ emerge various organic and iconographic forms, in an almost haphazard yet aesthetically harmonious arrangement. The kinetic optical effect created through layered alternating colours pays homage to the aesthetic tradition of body painting with alternating bands of contrasting tonal value. The delicacy with which Nyumi handles such subtle contrast is unsurpassed. The brilliance of these later works have been widely acclaimed and recognized, with her work included in the 2004 Biennale of Sydney, and consecutive sell out solo exhibitions in Darwin, Sydney and Melbourne.
Elizabeth Nyumi is the foremost of the second-generation Balgo artists, on whose success the Warlayirti art centre at Balgo Hills depends. More than any other, she carries on, and rapturously extends the reputation of the Balgo women artists with her refreshingly distinct and individual depictions of country.
Alexander, G. 2004. Balgo 4-04. Melbourne. Vega Press.
Mahood, K. June 2005. Under the Skin. Australia. Artlink 25(2).
Oâ€™brien, P. March 2004. Sacred food: Elizabeth Nyumi. Australia. Artlink 24(1) 64-65.
Williamson. S & Togni. S. . Winter 2004. Abundance, the art of Elizabeth Nyumi. Australia. Art and Australia 41(4) 574-579.
Kiwirrkurra, Jupiter Well, Parwalla, Great Sandy Desert , Minjali Rockhole, Wirripi, Wangara
Bush Food , Witchetty Grub , Bush Tomato , Seed , Bush Raisin (Kantilli)
Synthetic Polymer Paint on Linen and Canvas, Printmaking, Screen Printing