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Gloria Tamerre Petyarre is an Australian Aboriginal artist who was born in 1945 at Atnangkere Soakage in the Northern Territory. She grew up in a remote part of the Eastern Desert and was taught the Anmatyerre law and traditions. Along with her 6 sisters, Petyarre was raised in traditional custom within a large extended family and speaks the Anmatyerre language. Her aunt, and group elder, was Emily Kngwarreye, who went on to become Australia’s best-known Aboriginal woman artist.
Since 1977 Petyarre has lived at Mulga Bore (Akaye Soakage) Utopia and took part in the community’s first arts programs. It was within the Utopia community that she began batik painting, exhibiting in shows across Australia for ten years. Petyarre helped found the Utopia Women’s Batik Group, which was instrumental for the development of female indigenous artists, providing them with space to create and allowing them to exhibit both locally and abroad. Until these early batik-making workshops were established, the women had traditionally helped men complete their paintings, but were not usually allowed their own paint and canvas. The Utopian batik workshops heralded the dawn of Aboriginal women artists in their own right. The natural shapes and patterns of the local leaves, flowers and seeds influenced their art.
After working in batik for almost a decade, Petyarre progressed to the medium of canvas in the late 1980’s. In 1989 she began translating the batik paintings onto canvas for the ‘Summer Project’. In 1990 Petyarre travelled to London, Ireland and India as representative for the Utopia Women, accompanying the ‘Utopia: A Picture Story’ exhibition. In the following year, she had her first solo exhibition at Utopia Art, Sydney. In 1993 Petyarre undertook a commission for the Mural for Kansas City Zoo, U.S.A. and in the following year, a Tapestry commission for the Law Courts, Brisbane, Qld.
Gloria Petyarre dwelt in the shadow of her aunt, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, before emerging in 1996 as a renowned artist. In 1995/96, she received a Full Fellowship Grant from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board of The Australia Council. Witnessing Emily’s artistic progression from delicately intimate to more gestural works, Petyarre’s own works became freer naturalistic interpretations of landscape. In 1999 she was awarded the Wynne Prize for ‘Leaves’, and became the first Aboriginal person to win one of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ major prizes.
Petyarre and her sisters Ada Bird and Kathleen Petyarre first practised their art as part of the group of women who painted each other’s bodies in preparation for the traditional ceremonies. However, since those early works, Petyarre has developed a highly distinctive style of abstraction, where line and color continually push the artistic boundary. Petyarre says that she prefers the greater freedom and control that she finds with the medium of acrylic on canvas. Recently, she has explored expressing her Bush Leaf Dreaming in a contemporary form whilst retaining its tradition context. Gloria Petyarre continues to blend tradition with the contemporary, creating exquisite artworks crafted to connect with all people. Petyarre’s paintings have clearly defined components filled with curved lines. Her style features abstract fields and bright colors and she is renowned for creating vibrant abstract images that have their roots in the natural life of the Australian bush. Petyarre’s dreamings include Mountain Devil Lizard, Bean, Emu, Pencil Yam, Grass Seed, Small Brown Grass, Wild Flowers, Bush Flowers and Bush Medicine.
Petyarre has toured with her work to England, Scotland, Ireland, India, Thailand and the United States, always returning to the bush environment where she lives and works with her husband, fellow artist Ronnie Price Mpetyane.
Gloria Petyarre is widely recognized as one of Australia’s most successful female artists. She is represented extensively in national and international collections including The National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Victoria Museum, Museums and Art Gallery of the Northern Territories, Powerhouse Museum, Westpac Collection, New York, Gold Coast City Art Gallery, Robert Holmes a Court Collection, Singapore Art Museum, British Museum, London.