Mick Namarari was the first great practitioner of Western Desert minimalism. Already one of the most accomplished of the founding Papunya painters, it was the gallerist, Gabrielle Pizzi who first apprehended the conceptual purity and spare execution of Kangaroo, Wallaby and Bird Dreaming
at Manpinya, East Of Kintore on its completion in 1989. And it was Pizzi whose visionary exhibitions spearheaded the recognition of Western Desert painting in the spirited arena of contemporary international art.
Despite its startling modernism, the wellspring for Namarari’s Kangaroo, Wallaby and Bird Dreaming
at Manpinya is located in dune fields, far from from the dust-free austerity of the ‘white cube’. In the year of the painting’s creation, Namarari told me: “I was born at Marnpi[inya]. That is where my mother had me…. This is the Red Kangaroo Dreaming place. This is the Hills Kangaroo place. This is the Owlet Nightjar”. Namarari’s intimate association with Marnpinya, and the events that occurred there during the Dreaming, make this site central to his perception of self; accordingly, its representation was essential to his artistic development. Prohibitions on the dissemination of esoteric knowledge associated with Marnpinya played an instrumental role in the artist’s approach to abstraction. What Europeans might call an accident of birth would frame the way in which Namarari shaped his artistic practice 1
Namarari was a quiet man even by the standards of his Pintupi peers, and the still water of his artistic soul ran deep. The small opening at the centre of this work suggests entry into a timeless metaphysical realm. The divine poetry of his best work, like the man, remains an enigma 2.
1John Kean, ‘Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Shimmer and Shake’, in Brought to Light II, Contemporary Australian Art 1966-2006, Queensland Art Gallery Publishing, Brisbane, pp. 78-83.
2 John Kean, ‘Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri’, in Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art, National Gallery of Victoria, 2011, pp. 160-62.