Bugai Whyoulter: Defiant and Miraculous - Art Collector

Issue 72, April - June 2015

Indigenous artist Bugai Whyoulter has created a unique style within the tradition of Western Desert painting. Her innovative, energetic canvases are personal manifestations of broader cultural knowledge and history. Una Rey writes. Portrait by Tobias Titz.
Bugai Whyoulter, photographed for Art Collector Issue 72, April - June 2015. Photo: Tobias Titz.

 Bugai Whyoulter is both defiant and miraculous: a painter painting up a storm against a prevailing tempest that prophesises the death of the desert art movement. But just as Western artists have resurrected painting several times over the past century and Aboriginal people themselves have resolutely defied such claims against their very existence, there are desert artists of great intention who continue to demonstrate their world view through paint.

Reclusive by nature, Whyoulter used to sit back, but since starting to paint for Martumili Artists in the remote Pilbara region in 2007 her practice has seen her shine both personally and professionally, with paintings in a number of key public collections and critical exhibitions in Australia and recently with Harvey Art Projects in the United States. Closer to home, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s 2014 exhibition Martu: art from the far Western Desert revealed how Martu have beautifully exploited the tradition of collaborative painting, known in desert languages as kutjungka, or together as one. Whyoulter credits senior artists Nora Wompi and Nora Nungabar as central to her development, mentoring her within an intimate trio while endorsing her personal manifestations of cultural knowledge.

The notion of lineage is important to Whyoulter’s practice, as gallery director Suzanne O’Connell points out: “Bugai has this unique gestural style, inspired by her mother-in-law Nora Wompi’s teaching, [who in turn worked closely with Balgo star-painter Eubena Nampitjin] … but it’s very much her own innovative way of mark making. She has created her own niche within the field of Western Desert painting and Australian painting more generally and there is a genuine demand for work with such integrity.”

Born circa 1940 at Pukayiyirna (now Balfour Downs Station), Whyoulter’s nomadic lifestyle changed dramatically in the 1960s when she settled with family at Jigalong Mission. She now lives at Kunawarritji but moves regularly between communities and occasionally into the mainstream art world in the service of her emerging art career. The touring exhibition We don’t need a map: A Martu experience of the Western Desert at Dubbo’s Western Plains Cultural Centre (which runs from 4 April to 31 May 2015), is one such example of connecting world views, Whyoulter’s elegant vertical canvases bridging high art and socio-political statements of country.

With solo shows at Aboriginal and Pacific Art in Sydney in 2010 and Seva Frangos Art in Perth in 2011, Whyoulter’s first solo exhibition at Suzanne O’Connell Gallery this quarter will introduce her to new audiences. Fearless in scale, Whyoulter creates expansive canvases that sell in excess of $20,000, but small canvases are available for as little as $1,500.
Share this page: