Malarvie’s subtle, abstract paintings reflect the artist’s deep-rooted connection to nature and her work consists of layers of cultural meaning, childhood memories and recollections of family histories. The two series presented at JGM Gallery, Milkwater and Luga, depict the remarkable desert landscape around Sturt Creek, Australia, where the artist spent her childhood, an area that sits between the Great Sandy Desert and Kununurra, Western Australia. At the heart of Malarvie’s practice is an enduring connection to her traditional country and childhood memories as a way of reconnecting with a time before the disruptions to family and cultural traditions that have occurred during her lifetime and throughout Aboriginal history. Painting in a palette of soft earth ochres, including natural pale pinks, black, greys and milky white, Malarvie translates the language of place into energetic gestures of abstraction. Layers of circle motifs in the Luga paintings represent a land that is flooded and dry by turns, leaving behind the patterned ground of luga – the cracked mud across the parched black soil plains of Sturt Creek. The white circles specifically refer to the salt crystals found in the mud and that are believed to have healing powers. Malarvie’s recent Milkwater series, by contrast, is a meditation on the multifaceted play of wind and light on this same area of land in times of flooding, when the water takes on the eerily beautiful colour of milk.
Like many Aboriginal artists, Malarvie works within the iconographic traditions of the desert, deeply in tune with the natural environment and ecology. Herself a healer, Malarvie’s paintings seem to capture not just the elements but also a certain energetic presence within them. Having had her first solo exhibition at the age of 68, these series together also form a visual biography. In her own words, ‘When I paint, I remember my childhood… when we were all together…’, an homage to her late sister.
For the Aboriginal community today, painting – inasmuch as it is a form of traditional mark making with a centuries old existence – retains its communicative function. Dating back 60,000 years, Indigenous Australian culture has consistently used painting for demarcating space, place and body: from paintings of detailed maps in the red sandy soil to ceremonial body painting and decorating traditional objects. In more recent decades, Aboriginal art can be viewed as a re-assertion of identity set within the context of a long and difficult period of colonial dominance and displacement. According to Jennifer Guerrini-Maraldi, Director of JGM Gallery, ‘Aboriginal artists are custodians of a different aspect of the earth – they have intellectual copyright for a pattern which has symbolic meaning… and a spirituality that is uplifting’.
Need to Know:
Kittey Malarvie: Milkwater and Luga
17th March to 22rd April
12–18 Radstock Street, SW11 4AT