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Artist BiographiesArtist Biographies - Arnhem Land artists


On this page are short biographies of Arnhem Land artists whose work is represented by paintings or prints on our Web site.

Note that these artists are deceased, and mentioning their names aloud, or referring this page to a relative or member of their community, may cause upset and distress.

The artists are:

Bardyal (Lofty) Nadjamerrek

Bardyal was born some time around 1926 in the stone country of the Mann River region of western Arnhem Land. He was a Kunwinjku speaker and spent most of his youth on various clan estates in the region. He was taught to paint rock art by his father. When a young teenager, he walked 200 kilometres to Maranboy where worked in a tin mine. This was his first contact with white people.

His early artistic experience was in painting on the walls of rock shelters in the headwaters of the Liverpool River. His rock paintings of a kangaroo, a horse with rider, emu and goats still survive.

After a while he moved to Katherine where he was employed as a stockman. When World War II broke out, Bardyal was forcibly rounded up along with many others and moved to Mataranka army camp where he was made to chop wood and load cargo trains. He was aged around sixteen at the time - when he was also involved in a large number of traditional ceremonies.

After the war, Bardyal went to Oenpelli to work as a buffalo shooter. He also cut timber and planted market gardens. He was married by then to Mary and already had three children. They have had a further five children since then.

He began painting works for sale on bark in 1969 at Oenpelli and has developed an outstanding reputation first as a painter on bark and more recently on paper, using traditional ochre pigments.

His X-ray style of painting is strongly linked back to the tradition of painting on rock and his own experience as a young man. He is particularly known for paintings of Ngalyod and Yingarna (the Rainbow Serpents) and other mythical beings.

In 1972 Bardyal left Oenpelli and returned to clan lands in western Arnhem Land and in 1988 he moved to Gamarrwagan where he has lived ever since.

Lofty possessed a rich store of mythological knowledge. As a ritually senior man, he was responsible for Ancestral sites and mythologies from his own patrilineal clan lands (father's country). For this reason he was known as Djungay (manager).

His works are held in the National Gallery of Australia, National gallery of Victoria, Australian Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney) and numerous other museums and major collections.

He passed away in 2010.

England Bangala (Banggala)

He was born around 1925 in central Arnhem Land and passed away in 2001. He worked with the Maningrida art centre. His prints and paintings reflected the high status which he held in the traditional ceremonies of his community.

His pictorial style combines elements of the west and central Arnhem Land traditions. The organic forms he represents in his work often depict the elements of Gunardba women travelling across the land, creating sacred sites, law and language for the Gunardba people. These elements now reside in spirit form at sites specific to the An-ngulin clan.

A strong vigorous flow is characterised in Banggala’s work with its graphic boldness. The cross hatching is found within the figures and the schematic motifs of his work rather than in the background, as is more common to the art of Arnhem Land. The broad areas of colour, dotted subdivisions and plain background reflect Banggala’s association with the Rembarrnga. Rembarrnga art is not easily classifiable because most artists of this group paint in distinctly individual and different ways. The most likely reason for this divergence is geographical. The Rembarrnga speaking people own land over a vast area of south-western and south-central Arnhem Land, some of it inaccessible and therefore isolated. This has caused each small group to develop their particular traditions somewhat differently. The art of the group as a whole shares common themes of water and stone country and spirit figures.

He was active as an artist since 1974 and has been involved in numerous exhibitions; his works is held in many public and private galleries and collections.

David Malangi

David Malangi was born in 1927 and for most of his life he lived with his extended family at Yathalamara in the Northern Territory. He passed away in 1999.

He was the head of the Manarrngu clan and one of the most powerful elders of central Arnhem Land. With the death of clan leaders who owned adjacent lands, Malangi inherited custodianship for vast tracts of land on either side of the Goyder River, thus inheriting the associated responsibilities for caring for sacred sites, recounting the journeys of both the Djangkawu creation ancestors and of the ancestor Gurrumurringu.

He began painting as a young boy, taught by his father and uncle to paint on bodies for ceremonies, on hollow logs for burials and later on stringybark. He was taught to paint the story of his creation ancestors and the stories that they sang in their ceremonies as well as his totems the sea eagle, crow, snake and goanna.

Malangi recalled: ‘I saw my father paint dead men’s (bodies) when I was a little boy and I copied’.

In 1966, when Australia adopted decimal currency, the central motif of the original dollar note was a direct representation of the Gunmirringu story from one of Malangi’s bark paintings. The artist knew nothing of this until he saw the note. The Reserve Bank later recognized his copyright and awarded him compensation and so began the recognition of Aboriginal copyright.

David Malangi was a prolific and highly individualistic artist whose work has been sought after by major international collectors since the 1960s. In style, his bold collection of individual imagery and shapes on a clear, red ochre or sometimes black background influenced several other central Arnhem Land painters.

He usually composed his paintings around vertical lines rather than a central circular image as favoured by most Central Arnhem Land painters, and used broader, bolder brush marks. His strong, graphic images, often thickly outlined in white, return to particular themes, always in differing formations with a high figurative content.

His work is in numerous collections in Australia and overseas.

Peter Nabarlambarl

Peter was a distinguished Kunwinjku artist from Oenpelli in west Arnhem Land. He was born in 1930 and passed away in 2001. He painted using the traditional rarrk cross-hatching technique, or x-ray style, typical of the Gunbalanya artists of western Arnhem land.

His work often depicted the spirits that have metamorphosed into rocks at important sites in the artist’s country. He was renowned as an artist on bark, and his work also carried over successfully into the print medium without losing any of its traditional qualities.

Since 1982 he exhibited all over Australia, including in the 1994 ‘Power of the Land: Masterpieces of Aboriginal Art' exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria; as well as in several exhibitions in the United States.

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