The privilege will never fade, seeing Eubena impregnate a clean canvas surface with her brush, germinate her intentions and grow this flame-bright picture of tracks and travels into maturity.
Piloting across the desert that early morning, relatively low as usual to inhale the undulations, light, shapes and lines across the desert, we arrived in Wirrimau (Balgo Hills) to find Eubena (Yupinya) Nampitjin ready to get to work on this, her larger than usual newly prepared ‘board’.
During the next two days at Warlayirti’s ‘Sister’s Laundry’ Art Centre building where she came to paint, Nampitjin’s concentration did not waiver. Either sitting outside in the warmth of the early sun or in the shade of the old corrugated verandah, Eubena tucked her slender legs up to one side and, with a cup of tea on the other, kept her movements to a minimum, her focus steady and determined.
Her brushes would delve into tubs of glistening red white and orange colour with a rhythm that matched her lullaby voice as she shared past events, honing them into sight; students gathering, looking on. There was a particular sigh that Eubena would give; long and audible as she stretched her back up from her work. A mixture of relief from concentration, and pride; a demonstration of effort, and satisfaction. Sometimes a hearty giggle-come-call would burst the air in her high gravelly voice, seemingly at the idea of painting ‘it all’. But soon Nampitjin would be back to work.
Eubena liked to paint with her ‘board’ to the front, close to her lap, on the floor. Leaning across to turn an edge for fresh reaches the hoiked stretcher would scrape the ground causing baby billows of sand to risk inclusion forever.
As a true desert person, Eubena lived a hunter-gatherer life until she was a young woman, and never allowed her skills to wither. Painting later in life, beginning with her husband Wimmitji Tjapangarti, Eubena told ‘Warlayirti Artists’ for this painting’s certificate to say that she is “Painting her Mother’s Country near Williluna”, “Long way trip-true”.
We watch thick plastic pigment be groomed into place under Eubena’s confident hand. Two vertical lines dividing the painting emerge as the marlu (kangaroo) roads. Horizontal lines of more detailed brush-strokes appear as sand-dunes and the three central roundels become wells; two of ‘living water’ – meaning this precious fluid is always to be found – and one rockhole known as ‘Warlull’.
Pausing for an appraising look ‘Eubs’ – as she was fondly known – pushes and strokes the acrylic paint that she liked to have smooth and as soft as whipped cream, en mass. Put your hand near one of her thickly painted surfaces and you might match Eubena’s open finger marks – where she has dragged then concertinaed the pigment into bright, tight stacatto tips – reflecting even more her own light, and depth.
The recent flight over undulations, shapes and line series starts to pale in comparison to the actualities added in Eubena’s painting. Her near parallel courses of colour are sparked into life by lightening white strikes. White between quick changes from orange to yellow to red. Repeated in layers the artist builds three sections within the painting (a nod to the previous Art Manager, James Cowan, who introduced three panel paintings – usually for three different artists). The wave columns become distinct areas of country; areas of married separation.
The sand-dunes run beside each other, steering a few degrees this way then that, as they do. Then appear caught in mid flight and flashed to canvas with such ferocity that Eubena’s visual landscape is the full force of life itself.
The above painting by Eubena (Yupinya) Nampitjin, was talked of under the ‘Teaching’ group in 13th November’s Blog Post ‘Aboriginal, Indigenous Art Criticism’. It is here re-linked: (please let me know if the image gets kidnapped again.)
(… Watching the waves of bright colour flow across Nampitjin’s expanse of country, I suddenly felt awash in her oceans of vital-forces; a tiny vessel in a huge sea. “Better throw me a lifejacket” I asked of John Oster the then Arts Manager, breathless in the swell of Nampitjin’s picture, and the looming committment to show this work widely. ref. Luminous).
This article first appeared on www.palya.com.au on the 18th December 2016. Text: Helen Read 2016.
Helen Read is an artist and former nurse-pilot for the Pintupi Homelands Health Service in Walungurru (Kintore), Kiwirrkurra, Gibson Desert, Central Australia.
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