Gloria Petyarre

Gloria Petyarre

Also known as: Gloria Petyarre Tamerre

Date of Birth: c.1945

Region: Atnangkere and Utopia, Northern Territory

Language: Anmatyerre

Gloria was born around 1945 in her country of Atnangkere. She lived in traditional ways before moving to Utopia, one of the established settlements. The Utopia Pastoral Lease was drawn up in 1927 and forced many of the Aboriginal people in this area out of their traditional lands. In 1977 the people of Utopia gained a 99 year leasehold on the Utopia Pastoral Lease which was purchased through the Aboriginal Land Fund Council.   A batik program was proposed and became a major success with Gloria being one of the leading artists in this format. It also provided the town of Utopia and its artists with an income and a claim of recognition. Gloria was one of the original artists employed in this program. Her work gained rapid recognition. The Utopia artists then planned a program called 'A Summer Project' whereby they moved from batik to acrylics on canvas. The project was a major success with Gloria and many other artists moving full time into acrylic on canvas.

Gloria paints the traditional women business subjects that are predominant in Utopia. In the Papunya community the artists’ contact was Geoffrey Bardon, therefore most of the original artist were male. In Utopia the arts advisor was female, allowing the female artists of this area to flourish. The leading women artists quickly mastered the possibilities. Not only did a huge range of colours emerge, but a far greater tonal range than they were able to achieve with batiks also began to be seen. Gloria stands out here.  With her work she uses close tonal values of different colours creating a dynamic optical intensity. Her work features powerful structural linear patterns derived from body painting, outlined with single dots. At other times the structural pattern becomes submerged in a sea of dots, the tonal relationships causing the structural pattern to dissolve into the base design of her painting. She continues to develop her paintings to higher levels of abstraction, continually experimenting with line and colour. Gloria says she prefers the greater freedom and control she finds with the medium of acrylic on canvas.  Several of her works now have no dots at all but bands of different colour whose optical effects have evoked comparison to the British artist Bridget Riley.

Her main Dreamings that she paints are the Mountain Devil Lizard, Bean, Emu, Pencil Yam, Grass Seed and Small Brown Grass and well as the traditional body paint designs worn by women.  In 1990 she travelled to Ireland, London and India as a representative of the Utopia Women in the 'Utopia - A Picture Story' exhibition. Touring to Tandanya, Adelaide; The Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin Ireland; and the Meat Market Gallery in Melbourne.

n 1991 she had her first solo exhibition at Utopia Art in Sydney. Since then she has exhibited at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jinta Desert Art in Sydney and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.  She is also featured extensively in major collections around the world.

Bush Medicine

Gloria predominantly paints the leaves of the bush medicine tree.  Historically these leaves have been collected by Aboriginal women and then dried.  The leaves were then mixed with animal fat and used to cover wounds to aid healing.  The mixture was also applied to act as an insect repellent.

In the desert where doctors and medicine were not available, traditional medicine was important to the Aboriginal people, as much as food and water.  It is for this reason they developed stories around bush medicine and today depict those stories within their paintings.

For Gloria Petyarre the title of her paintings (‘Falling Leaves’ or ‘Bush Medicine’) are used interchangeably, signifying the stories beneath each piece. 

As Gloria paints she recalls songs that her mother used to sing whilst preparing the traditional medicine from leaves.

The Wynne Prize

In the terms of the bequest of the late Richard Wynne of Mount Wilson, (who died in 1895) the Wynne Prize is awarded to what the judges consider to be the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours, or for the best example of figure sculpture by an Australian artist.

It was first awarded in 1897, in honour of the official opening of the Art Gallery of New South Wales at its present site.  Many winning paintings have become icons in Australian landscape painting, entering the collections of public art museums, and at least nine Wynne Prize winning entries have been purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

The winner of the 1999 Wynne Prize was Gloria Tamerre Petyarre for her painting ‘Leaves’.

The Wynne Prize is judged by the Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.


2009 Wynne Prize Finalist

2004 Wynne Prize for Landscape Painting, Highly Commended

1999 Wynne Prize for Landscape Painting, Main Prize Winner





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