The Arnhem Land region of the Northern Territory extends roughly from the eastern half of the peninsula that forms the most north-eastern portion of the territory’s footprint. Of the portable arts, the Arnhem Land region is widely renowned for their bark paintings, sculpture and weaving. As the market for bark paintings in particular emerged in the early 20th century, the iconography evolved, depicting animals and spirit beings, resembling paintings found in ancient rock shelters in the vicinity. While variations in the artform are evident across the region, the west tend towards the figurative and moving east, geometric design become more apparent.
Within the Collection of John Graham are several important examples of bark paintings spanning across the whole Arnhem Land region, appearing in this auction from lots 25 to 44. Melbourne-based collector and artist John Graham first showed interest in works from this region when as a young artist in David Larwill’s Prahran studio in the 1980s, he discovered a large two-volume catalogue ‘Primitivism in 20th Century Art’. It wasn’t until this moment that a lifelong passion blossomed.
As an artist, collector and explorer Graham traversed the globe with a lifelong pursuit of ‘art holidays’ – journeys to the countries famous for the ‘Art Premier’ (or tribal art), to both explore and study these cultures and to further develop his own art practice. Graham has travelled to, and collected from, West Africa, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Borneo, India and well as within Australia.
Graham collected his first Australian Aboriginal bark painting in 1990 from Emerald Hill Gallery in South Melbourne, by Lily Karadada Wandjina (lot 41). Graham’s eye was drawn to figurative works, painted onto undulating bark surfaces with natural ochres. He subsequently unearthed a considerable collection of works from the desirable 1960s and 70s period – when such works were sold by the church missionary societies, such as Oenpelli. Seeing himself as a caretaker of these works, Graham remains a collector and is happy to offer this selection of works to others who also share his love of Aboriginal bark paintings.
Lucy Foster / Senior Art Specialist
Banner Image (detail): BUNUMBIRR BININYUWUY (1928-1982) Yulungurr 1963 | $2,500-3,500