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Lot 54: Emily Kame Kngwarreye (Australian c.1910 - 1996) Earth’s Creation 1, 1994, synthetic polymer on Belgian linen, 275 x 632cm (108 x 248in), Estimate Upon Request



Emily Kngwarreye, Earth’s Creation I

Chifley Tower

2 Chifley Square, Sydney, 2000

Monday to Friday 9:30AM – 6PM



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Cooee Art

326 Oxford St, Paddington, 2021

Friday 10th – Tuesday 14th 10AM – 6PM




Adrian Newstead

CooeeArt Marketplace / +61 412 126 645

Mirri Leven

CooeeArt Marketplace / +61 416 379 691

Tim Goodman

Fine Art Bourse / +61 481 780 302




The Artist / Emily Kame Kngwarreye

During a whirlwind painting career that lasted just eight years, octogenarian Emily Kame Kngwarreye became Aboriginal Australia’s most successful living artist, carving an enduring presence in the history of Australian art. By the time she passed away on September the 2nd,1996, her fame had achieved mythic status. The Sydney Morning Herald obituary reported her death as the ‘Passing of a Home Grown Monet’. Emily was an artistic superstar, the highest paid female artist in the country, who created one of the most significant artistic legacies of our time.

As a painter, Emily was a bold, unselfconscious force. She worked as if possessed, unleashing an explosion of colour and movement onto her canvases; drawing long meandering lines and bashing out fields of dots with her exceptionally strong hands and arms. Like Pollock she painted on the ground but, unlike him, she crouched over the canvas until done. Her finest paintings are entirely intuitive works, painted during furious sessions in which she never stepped back from a canvas to survey the finished work. Such was her assuredness about its content and meaning.

Like her Anmatyerre clanswomen, Emily participated in ceremony (Awelye) to make herself happy. In doing so, she was 'promoting the health and wellbeing of her community and demonstrating her ties with the land' (Green 1981). According to Margo Neale, curator of her 1998 retrospective exhibition,

'few artists have painted the country like she has, with an ability to penetrate its very soul'.

Born circa 1910 at Soakage Bore (Alhalkere) on the northwest boundary of Utopia, Emily spent her younger days as a camel driver and stock hand on pastoral properties. Married twice, she did not conceive, and left her second husband for Soakage bore, one of 14 small encampments spread over Utopia’s 1800 square kilometres.

Emily’s began her ten-year career making batiks in 1977. It wasn’t until 1987 that she painted her first canvas, a work for Rodney Gooch of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA). CAAMA’s ‘Summer Project 1988/9’ resulted in 81 completed works by Emily and others, which were catalogued and shown at the SH Ervin Gallery in Sydney. The success of these principally female artists snowballed from that time with CAAMA handling over $1 million in sales for Utopia artists during the following year. By 1990, her works were shown in highly successful shows in Sydney, Perth, and Melbourne.



Amongst the most important galleries to show her work in Sydney were the Hogarth Galleries, Coo-ee Aboriginal Art, and Barry Stern. While in Melbourne her paintings were shown by Flinders Lane Gallery, Alcaston House, Lauraine Diggins Fine Art and Aboriginal Gallery of Dreamings. Wider acclaim came from international quarters with major paintings featured in important exhibitions, which toured to Russia (1991), Japan (1992), Germany, the United Kingdom and Denmark (1993).

It is almost impossible to imagine the galvanising effect of Emily’s prodigious output at this early stage in her career. It gave rise to two vitally important phenomena in the history of Aboriginal art. The first was the emergence of women’s art in the Eastern and Central deserts, which would eventually come to transcend men’s art, the dominant force at that time. The second was the arrival of a new entrepreneurial sector in the Aboriginal arts industry, which enabled many galleries to source high quality art from outside of the art centre system.

In 1992 Emily was one of 12 Australian artists to be awarded a two year Creative Fellowship from the Australia Council, worth $55,000 per year. Rodney Gooch commented at the time that 'to be a great artist in Aboriginal society is to be a great provider’ and noted that about 20 members of her immediate ‘family’ would benefit directly from her award and about 100 others indirectly.

It would be far from an exaggeration to say that almost single-handedly Emily Kngwarreye enabled a large number of Aboriginal art galleries to weather the high interest rate driven recession of the early 1990’s and ride it out in far better condition than their contemporary gallery counterparts. Her paintings, along with those of the far less prolific Rover Thomas, commanded prices unmatched by any others and unheard of prior to this time.

Despite Emily's international acclaim and the vast fortune that she earned and dispensed to her clans people, it is still possible to visualise her sitting by the Arlparra Store, where she would camp and paint on red sandy earth under a bough shelter. Emily slept under the stars and lived in a most frugal manner. When money came in, it was quickly spent or given away. She was completely indifferent to the trappings of wealth and fame, and was largely oblivious to the art of international modernist masters with whom her work was constantly compared. In her final series, created during the weeks preceding her death, Emily created a number of simple, stark colour field paintings working with large flat brushes. They mark a most extraordinary end to a remarkable career and parallel the last works of Henry Matisse, yet another artist with whom she was compared and about whom she knew nothing.

Adrian Newstead © 2017






The Painting / EARTH’S CREATION I, 1994

Made up of four panels measuring a total of 275 x 632cm (108 x 248in), Earth’s Creation I by Emily Kame Kngwarreye pays reverence to the sacredness of the Earth and her ancestors. Emily created the painting while sitting on the canvas, moving around continuously until the entire surface was completed. Consistent with her 1995 period, Earth’s Creation I is filled with mystery: wild floral impressions with alternately coloured outlines; produced by double dipping brushes into pots of layered paint. The sublime orchestration of this expression engages the eye with dazzling energy and flowing movement.


Like her Anmatyerre clanswomen from Utopia, Emily participated in ceremony (Awelye). Paintings like this, produced in summer, were highly charged with energy and usually more colourful than those done in the dry season. This was due to the keyed up expectation of rain, the excitement of its arrival and the explosive flowering of the desert.


Big Yam 1996 / Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
4 panels, each 159.0 x 270.0cm, overall 245.0 x 401.0cm.

Big Yam Dreaming. 1995 / Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
291.1 x 801.9cm


While her preoccupation was the life cycle of the Yam in all of its seasonal manifestations and the women's ceremonies that celebrated its importance and their responsibility as its custodians Emily painted many interrelated themes and species. In her own words she painted: ‘Whole lot, that's all, whole lot, awelye, arlatyeye, ankerrthe, ntange, dingo, ankerre, intekwe, anthwerle and kame. That's what I paint: whole lot. My dreaming, pencil yam, mountain devil lizard, grass seed, dingo, emu, small plant emu food, green bean and yam seed.’

In 1994 Emily participated in two workshops organised by her nephew Fred Torres during which a number of major multi-panelled pieces were created. These were held in Utopia and Alice Springs. In order to prepare these canvases Torres’ mother, Barbara Weir, hand stitched separate lengths of Belgian linen together leaving enough canvas as a selvedge so that once the stitches were removed the completed canvasses could be stretched and subsequently aligned to seamlessly display the work exactly as it had been created.


Emily Kngwarreye painting Earth’s Creation I, Utopia, NT, 1994

Of these works the most magnificent was Earth's Creation I, which was included in her touring retrospective exhibition curated by Margo Neale for the Queensland Art Gallery. It was created while sitting on the canvas, moving around as she worked continuously, until the entire surface was completed. From every part of this work, its sublime orchestration engages the eye with dazzling energy and flowing movement.


Detail of the painting Earth’s Creation I



Detail of the painting Earth’s Creation I

Earth’s Creation I is a cacophony of colour predominated by greens, blues, yellow and brown while in Earth’s Creation III a range of blue tones are offset by flows of white that illuminate the work creating a mystical, ethereal feel.

Yet without doubt, the most accomplished work amongst these canvasses, and the apogee of Emily’s oeuvre in this style, is Earth’s Creation I, the monumental masterpiece that has now been exhibited around the world to international acclaim. In this stunning work Emily celebrates her life as a senior custodian of these Dreamings. The painting is essentially about her life, her story about country; it's about her universe and the mythologies of her Dreamings that inform it. Filled with mystery, the adventures of her Spiritual Ancestors, and the ceremonies that she engaged in during her life that are said to increase abundance and sustain the force of life.






Created during workshop at Arlpara, Utopia on Eastern Anmatjerre clan lands organised by;

Dacou Gallery 1994 // Private Collection, South Australia // Lawson~Menzies, Aboriginal Fine Art sale, May 2007, Sold $1,056 000 // Mbantua Gallery and Cultural Museum, Alice Springs, NT

A folio of more than a dozen images of Emily painting Earth’s Creation I accompanies the work. In addition, a lengthy video of the artist at work on this major commission can be acquired by application to the artist’s family.





Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia

Queensland Art Gallery, February – April 1998

Art Gallery of New South Wales, May - July 1998

National Gallery of Victoria, September - November 1998

Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye

National Museum of Osaka, February – April 2008

National Art Centre, Tokyo, May – July 2008

National Museum of Australia, August – October 2008

Northern Territory Parliament House, Darwin, December 2008 – February 2009

All the World’s Futures, Venice Biennale International Exhibition

Giardini della Biennale, May – November 2015


Neale, Margo (ed.) (1998). Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia, Queensland Art Gallery, MacMillan, p.31 Illust.pp116-117

Neale, Margo (ed.) (2008). Utopia : the genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Canberra: National Museum of Australia Press. Illust. Pp124-125

Neale, Margo (ed.) (2008). Utopia : the genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Japan: National Museumof Art, Osaka, National Art Centre, Tokyo, Yomiuri Shimbun, National Museum of Australia, pp20-21 Illust. pp160-161

Dr. Anne Runhardt (ed.) (2009). Emily Kame Kngwarreye, The Person and her Paintings, Ability Press, Adeliade, pp134-135 illust. Pp188-189

In addition, Earth’s Creation I has been the subject of dozens of press and magazine articles. For a short list of selected writing visit; 





In 2015 Earth's Creation I, the largest masterwork by Emily in private hands was chosen by curator Okwui Enwezor for the International Exhibition. All The World’s Futures at the Giardini della Biennale during the most prestigious art event in the world, the 56th Venice Biennale.

The international art Magazine Apollo listed Earth's Creation in its top 10 MUST SEE list at the Biennale.