Kathleen Kngale

Born 1940

Although Kathleen Kngale has been painting for over two decades, it is only in recent years that she has been acclaimed as one of the most significant and exciting artists in contemporary Utopia painting, creating memorable and visually dazzling paintings.

Kathleen Kngale is a seventy year old Anmatyerre woman from the Arlperre Country and belongs to a family of artists, one which includes an older sister Polly Kngale and a younger sister Angeline Kngale. All three sisters paint in individual and distinctive styles and have attracted widespread recognition.

Kathleen Kngale's main dreaming is that of the Bush Plum or Wild Plum (Arnwekety), a prized food source for Aboriginal women in Arlperre in Central Australia and one which ripens between Christmas and May in this country. One way of interpreting her paintings is to view them as pictorial explorations of the impact of the changing seasons on the Bush Plum plant capturing the changing colours of these small berries as they ripen from yellow and orange to pink and purple.

She also traces the journeys of the women in search of the Bush Plum as well as paying homage to the spiritual forces of the ancestors who created the land forms, everything that exists around them and codified the patterns of behaviour. The imagery in her paintings tends to touch on all of these aspects of the Bush Plum plant, the changing colours of the seasons, the sacred topography and the process of travel through this country.

Kathleen Kngale was involved with the Utopia batik movement in the 1980s and her method of work as a painter reflects something of this batik heritage, where each painted stroke is applied as if with a canting tool in the batik process and results in a mark, which then is built up layer upon layer. In her manner of paint application, there is both a great subtlety and complete confidence of touch. She frequently works with dotted underpainting like a spreading veil of colour favouring yellow ochres, purples, reds and lilac, on top of which there is a frenetic layering and patterning of dots with a pastel-like palette favouring pinks, pale greens, light blues, creams and lavender as the predominant colours. These optically blend and fuse with the underlying layer creating a quality of translucency and inner luminosity. Sometimes a further layer of individual dots is then applied in individual parts of the canvas giving them the appearance of luminous highlights or Bush Plums floating above the surface.

Kathleen Kngale's canvases are distinguished from those of many of her contemporaries through the exceptional sense of pictorial depth created by these veils of colour and their light saturated surfaces. Although the background layer of dots frequently appears largely painted out, almost inevitably faint halo-like echoes remain of the earlier colour layer. This creates the impression of an aerial landscape possessing a quality of spacious vastness, yet at the same time, there is a very subtle picking out of precious details, such as concentrations of Bush Plum plants, ancestral tracks, claypans and soakages.

It is a landscape which appears as simultaneously endless and monotonous in its lateral spread, yet full of meticulously defined detail and painterly incidents to which we are given pictorial access from an aerial perspective. The careful control of the size of the dots and their concentration coupled with the richness of the colour palette creates dramatic passages of paint and evokes the impression of sweeping dynamic movement which is compositionally contrasted with areas of great stillness and tranquillity. Her underpainting in warm glowing tones suggests a relentless radiating heat, but the surface pinks, purples and mauves, with their sweeping drifts of colour, hint at the fecundity of the vegetation and suggests deep gullies, pools of water and areas of shade which glow with colour and light.

While a parallel may be drawn with Emily Kngwarreye's so-called 'dump dump' style, when she was working with patches of colour applied with a broad brush, Kathleen Kngale is an artist of a very different artistic temperament. She is less gestural in her paint application, but she has an amazing control of her surfaces and the rare ability to evoke a breathing sparseness in some areas and a deep, rich and vibrant translucency in others. She is an artist who has created an unique and distinctive stylistic language, one of great visual power and spiritual resonance.

Written by Professor Sasha Grishin, Australian National University


2009 - JGM Art, London
2008 - Emily Kngwarreye and her Legacy, Tokyo
2008 - Power of Place, Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute
2008 - Utopia and Beyond, Barry Stern Gallery
2007 - Arts d'Australie, Stephane Jacob, Paris
2007 - Desert Song, Brush with Art Festival, Prairie Hotel, Parachilna
2007 - Patterns of Power, Art From the Eastern Desert, Simmer on the Bay, Sydney
2006 - Senior Women of Utopia, GalleryG, Brisbane
2006 - Lorraine Diggins exhibition, London
2005 - Neville Keating Gallery, London
2004 - Desert Mob, Alaluen Galleries, NT
2003 - Telstra Art Award, Museum and Art Gallery of NT, Darwin
2002 - Australian Modern, Fondazione Mudima, Milan, Italy
2002 - Two Sisters, Kathleen and Polly, Lorraine Diggins, Melbourne
2001 - Bush Plum Dreaming, Indigienart, Perth
2001 - Desert Mob, Araluen Galleries, NT
2001 - Utopia, A Special Painting Place, Bett Gallery, Hobart, Tasmania
2000 - Arts d'Australie, Stephane Jacob, Paris
2000 - Urapunja artists in Brisbane, Michael Sourgnes
2000 - Out of the Desert, Desert Gallery Sydney


National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Thomas Vroom Collection
The Holt Collection
Private collections



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