Adrian Newstead was invilted by Jacquie McPhee to write the forward to her new book:
The spread of the Aboriginal painting movement across Australia has been like a slowly moving fire through the Spinifex. Each place it has touched has been hot one moment and spent the next. Yet the art of its most important painters blazes long after interest in the less successful artists and the regional style they championed has waned.
Arnhem Land bark artists were the first to gain the public’s attention. By 1955 their paintings were sold in art shops in the United States of America and London for the first time. Shortly thereafter, UNESCO developed a program that sponsored exhibitions of Aboriginal bark art in Europe and America and works by these artist’s entered international museum collections for the first time.
As demand grew throughout the 1960s, small craft enterprises sprang up around the country. When, in 1970, the young art teacher, Geoffrey Bardon, began working at the remote settlement of Papunya, deep in the Western Desert, he sought the advice of the Aboriginal yardsmen, cooks, and town councilors about a mural to be painted by children on the school wall. He could not possibly have imagined the galvanising effect this event would have upon them. Nor could he have anticipated that this mural would spark a painting revolution that would resonate across the entire continent for decades to come.
By 1980, painting on canvas was spreading like a fire along a front across the Central, Tanami, and Western Deserts. The first art boards were created in the far north of Western Australia, carried on the shoulders of dancers in ceremonies intended to revivify Kimberley culture. Never intended for sale, they too became the subject of commercial interest. From the outset, Paddy Jaminji, and the others who followed him, chose to work only in traditional ochres, dismissing acrylic paint as a medium. These warm, earthy paintings stood out as appreciably different from the better-known, multi-hued acrylic dotted works that were created at Papunya during the same period. The remoteness of the Kimberley region encouraged a separate development, and highly textured works following the actual contours of the country, imparted the feeling that the traces of events that had unfolded through time were actually embedded in images.
Over the following decade painting spread throughout Australia’s most remote desert regions - amongst the Warlipi artists at Yuendumu, the Kukatja at Balgo Hills and the Eastern Anmatjerre artists at Utopia. Here there seemed to be an emphasis on luminosity, and a freer use of line, colour and expression. Then, just as the heat turned once more toward Arnhem Land, which experienced a new wave of innovation post 2000, Pitjantjatjarra people living in tiny desert communities in South and West Australia began creating bold, fluid works full of vibratory colour and energy.
Where did all the energy and this passion to create art come from? I believe it was born of a cultural and historical imperative. Tribal custodians facing the loss of language, custom and culture desperately sought to tell their story and assert their rights over land. In time, the new caretakers of this priceless cultural legacy became, almost by default, institutions, museums and passionate private collectors. Collectors like the incomparable Jacquie McPhee, whose works fill the pages of this enchanting book
Aware, since her childhood in the Australian bush, of the injustices suffered by Aboriginal people, her love of indigenous people was piqued during her teens teaching the native children in the highlands of New Guinea. By the time she was in her 30s she had re-created the colours of nature and tribal earth tones in homes from Florida in the USA to Surrey in England, on western outback stations and amongst the most prominent suburbs of Perth.
During a lifetime collecting beautiful, culturally important objects, antiques and paintings, Jacquie’s outgoing personality, and fascination for the culture, has seen her travel to remote rock art sites, Aboriginal communities, exhibition openings and art industry gatherings. While she developed close relationships with many of Australia’s most important Aboriginal art dealers and auction house specialists, it was her love of the artists that was always the primary driver of her collecting zeal. Her desire to keep up what was happening as it happened, and discover new and exciting works and regional movements fueled her ever-deepening emersion into Aboriginal art.
Although her Aboriginal art collection is an eclectic one, it is obvious that she has been deeply moved by the Anangu, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara artists who live on and around the Tri-State border between South Australia, West Australia and the Northern Territory. Here, with an experienced and sensitive eye, she has deliberately sought out many of the finest examples of the works that these artists have ever painted.
Jacquie has always felt uncomfortable about the conflict between the art centre managers and independent dealers. Her only concern is that the artist is well looked after financially, represented with integrity, and treated with respect.
If an artist’s work is good enough, she believes it should not be refused entrance into art awards and the collections of State and National Galleries, regardless of the organisation or person they chose to paint for. There is little doubt that internal industry conflict has seen many great Aboriginal artworks sold to overseas collectors with a more realistic view of the art market.
Jacquie’s love and respect for Aboriginal art and its creators borders on being messianic. It is the reason she has collected so deeply (her collection now exceeds 200 objects and paintings), and why she has sought to influence so many others. More than 40 of her friends have begun collecting seriously under her personal influence, while she selectively donates works to important teaching institutions. It also explains her attachment each individual piece in her own, very personal, collection. ‘Once I see a good work I never hesitate’, she told me. ‘I go for it immediately and think how I might pay for it later on’. On those odd occasions when she has sold a piece or two in order to upgrade, she has invariably regretted it.
Today, Aboriginal art collectors are to be found all over the world sharing their passion with others - from Madrid to Rome, Miami to Seattle, and all across Australia. They like Jacquie McPhee, believe that these paintings ‘have profound meaning and that they will stand the test of time”.
They attest to the creative genius of a tradition that is 60,000 years old. A tradition that in spite of the rapid changes brought during the 20th and 21st centuries, continues to endure and enlighten those who have the eyes to see and the heart to be moved by their beauty, ancient narrative, and eternal truths.