Linda Syddick - The First Pintupi Modernist Painter
While her paintings may challenge many critical conceits of what might be ‘authentic’ Western desert painting, her development of Christian themes, and interest in Western popular culture, transmit an understanding of the Dreaming and a sense of place.
The loss of her father by a revenge expedition when she was a baby, and subsequent loss of three children at an early age imbue her entire body of work with a commonality; that of loss, estrangement, salvation and redemption. Her adoption by Pintupi master Shorty Lungkata gave her the tools and permission to represent these themes through a visual language that uses the construction of place as a vehicle for articulating identities.
Although born in the bush, she moved in to Alice Springs in the late 1980’s and began painting works that were related to the sacred men’s Tingari cycle and her father’s death. In the most important of these early paintings the spearing of her father, and her mother’s flight were depicted with men spearing the clouds and washing away the ‘blood’, symbolising rain cleansing the earth. These ancestral Emu Men were dying at the place where her own father had been killed. Despite her insistence that she had a right to paint this country, having been given permission by Shorty it added cogency to the belief that she had abandoned her traditions.
A substantial body of paintings of ET, the extraterrestrial figure in Stephen Spielberg’s film of that name, followed. Her empathy was sparked by ET’s longing to return home. In these works she explored the feelings of homesickness, pining, grief, and loss, that central desert Aborigines articulate in song and ceremony. These feelings were signified in, and through, places such as the location where her father died. It is also the story of Christianity, offering similarly, a salvation from loss and estrangement, the loss of her children, of her father and to some extent the loss of her culture.
Lynda’s work shows what, and how, a place signifies in its relationship both to local Aboriginal identities, and also to engagement with the wider themes of destruction and loss, often implicitly coded within the meanings of place itself. The activity of painting, which comes from her adoptive father, and is enabled by his giving her the right to paint ‘his place’, is an activity of recuperating both the father and her own identity. In grasping this we better grasp Linda’s artistry, as perhaps the first modern Pintupi artist, in conveying this complex understanding of place, loss and identity.
After FRED MYERS – In Painting Culture
Refer to artist page for full biographical note.