Durrumu Arts, Peppimenarti - Art Collector

Issue 70, October - December 2014

Helen McKenzie discovers the intricate abstract paintings of the artists at Durrmu Arts – a technique inspired by traditional patterns of weaving.

R Wilson, Syaw fish net, acrylic on linen, 200 x 120cm. Courtesy: the artist and Durrumu Arts

Durrmu Arts is located at Peppimenarti, 300 kilometeres south west of Darwin. It was founded as a permanent settlement for the Ngan’gikurrunggurr people in the 1970s. Harold Wilson and his wife Regina Pilawuk Wilson were the driving force behind the establishment of the community. Born in Peppimenarti country, Harold was removed from his family and sent to government institutions as a child. He decided to return as an adult with family, to set up a permanent settlement that is now home to 200 people.

Durrmu refers to the body painting of dots for ceremonial purposes. Arts Centre Manager Rikki Lovell says: “Durrmu Arts is renowned for the beauty of its artists’ semi-abstracted weaving designs. The artists have pioneered a tradition of evocative tones and meticulous line work, which makes them so attractive and collectable. There is a palpable warmth to the Durrmu aesthetic, the result of rich, deep colour and intricate repeated patterns.”

The artists started painting weaving works in 2001. Weaving is still very much part of the artists’ practice; baskets and sculptures made from sand palm and pandanus materials, dyed using roots and berries, are highly collectable. Art dealer Michael Reid says the centre and its leading artist Regina Pilawuk are “amazing to work with, really straight forward and are a good example of what can be achieved.”

Regina Pilawuk is the best known of the Durrmu artists. In 2003 she won the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award and was a finalist in the Art Gallery of New South Wales Wynne Prize in 2008 and 2009. Her works are informed by the weaving skills she was taught as a 12-year-old by her mother and grandmother. She began transcribing weaving-based imagery in painting around 2001. Her work is in the collections of The British Museum, The Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, The National Gallery of Victoria, The Gallery of Modern Art in Queensland, as well as many private and corporate collections.

Patsy Marfurra, who passed away earlier this year, was an accomplished weaver, particularly of dilly bags. On canvas she is known for her bold stripes and dotted markings. Harriet Fesq, who has written a doctorate on the history of people of Peppimenarti says: “Patsy’s work stood out as it is bold and gestural. She predominantly painted ceremonial women’s body painting. A career highlight was when she was nominated as a finalist for a suite of works in the Xstrada Art Awards in 2008.”
Fesq suggests that collectors watch out for emerging artists at the centre, including Anne-Carmel Nimbali Wilson, Anastasia Naiya Wilson, Rosina Tirak and Miriam Byrnes. “Anastasia Naiya Wilson has been given the right to paint her mother’s totem and story; dingo Dreaming. The non-figurative work is made up of very fine dot painting in ochre colours on a black ground and is a weaving design.”
Lovell says the artists have recently been instructed by Lilly Roy to relearn “the traditional method of twinning with bush vine. This had been forgotten due to missionary contact in the Daly River region in the 1940s.”

Helen McKenzie
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