Lily Sandover Kngwarreye was born at MacDonald Downs on the Utopia clan lands born. She began painting during the 1988-9 CAAMA summer workshop following almost a decade making batik. The adopted ‘sister’ of Emily Kngwarreye, Lily was her closest friend and constant companion often referring to her when in a humorous mood as ‘granny’.
The Sandover River, winds its way through the sprawling homelands of the Alyawarr people. The surrounding country is characterized by red sands dotted with ghost gums and, in season, with explosions of wildflowers set against piercing blue skies. The Alyawarr live in simple outstations adjacent to the river, which for much of the year is a wide sandy strip lined with dry silver grasses and shady trees.
Lily was the eldest daughter of senior Alyawarr elder Jacob Jones and she in turn became the senior woman for the site of Entibera. She painted the important Two Sisters stories and a range of stories about bush foods including Honey Grevillia.
When an ‘official’ art centre, Urapuntja Artists, was established at Utopia Lily became a founding member and during this time she collaborated with Northern Editions to produce a number of etchings including 'Alhwert II' and 'Alhwert I’, now in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. The alhwert (pronounced 'allota') was a small burrowing bettong, or kangaroo rat, that is now extinct. The prints depict ‘iepa grass’, the traditional food source and home of the alhwert. The centre from which the patterns radiate is where the alhwert made its home. This became Lily Sandover’s defining image and the subject of the vast majority of her paintings.
Former art coordinator of Urapuntja Artists, Narayan Kozeluh who worked with Lily over many years noted in 2009 that when painting this image ‘Lily would place a heavily loaded painting stick of white onto a black canvas and in one fluid motion push it away creating swirling patterns that stylized the grass which her painting represented’. While best known for works in contrasting black and white she would occasionally apply other colours such as red acrylic on a yellow ochre ground.
This major piece depicting Ayippa (Iepa) Grass was part of a collection of 12 specially commissioned major works by Utopia women artists in 1997 and curated and overseen by Urapunja artists. The collection included works by Poly Ngal, Kathleen Ngal and Angelina Ngal, as well as Gloria Petyarre, Kathleen Petyarre and Violet Petyarre and was broken up in 2008.
While Lily Sandover had only one solo exhibition in 1991 in Melbourne, her work was included in a number of important group shows during her lifetime. They included exhibitions with Stéphane Jacob's Arts d'Australie in Paris, Flash Pictures at the National Gallery of Australia, and works from the Holmes a Court Collection which toured Scotland and a number of USA venues including Harvard University, University of Minnesota, and Lake Oswego Center for the Arts. She is represented in the collections of the Netherlands Aboriginal Art Museum in Utrecht, The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, The Holmes a Court Collection, Perth and a number of important private collections in Australia and overseas.