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Weaver Jack

Weaver Jack

1928 - 2010

A tiny woman of indomitable spirit, Weaver Jack came to national attention in 2006 when her self-portrait caused a stir for the Archibald Prize. This was because it was, on the surface, a landscape painting. This was a challenge for many in regard to the traditions of portraiture, especially in the context of Australia’s most lucrative art prize. Yet an identity founded in the substance of one’s Country has always been intrinsic to Aboriginal self-understanding. For those in exile, like the Yulparitja people of The Great Sandy Desert, the contours and memories of their country have become even more indelibly etched within them. During the 1960s, severe environmental changes (brought on by drought, mining and the introduction of large cattle stations to their lands) had forced the desert nomads to journey to the coast, some dying from thirst and hunger along the way. The rest settled at Lagrange Catholic mission, now the remote township of Bidyadanga, 200 kilometres south of Broome.  It was through painting that Jack reawakened the half-submerged memories of her childhood and youth and re-invigorated that aspect of herself. She became the undisputed leader of the group who began painting in 2000 at their aged care residence. Encouraged by the young Bidyadanga artist Daniel Walbidi, who had been intrigued by their stories from the past, the group chose a distinctive array of colors that inadvertently captured their geographical shift; coastal blues and cool greens alongside desert reds and purples, stark whites, dry browns and dusky yellows. The somewhat discordant and clashing hues, placed with assured and loaded brush strokes and an absolute certainty of composition, shocked the public but sold out when exhibited in Melbourne in 2004. The paintings were snapped up by leading state galleries (including the National Gallery of Australia and NGV) and private collectors. Each of the elderly artists brought their own perspective to this “imaginary repossession” of their distant homelands and spiritual source. Painting, singing and sharing memories, they summoned the past back to themselves.   Jack’s fluid designs depict her traditional country, south of Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route and near the Percival Lakes, a huge, largely seasonal salt lake area that teems with bird life in the wet season. Her birthplace and spiritual home is Lungarung, (a jila, or spring of living water) in which resides the great life-giving snake Wirnpa, who created the underground water system that threads through the desert country in a series of freshwater soaks. Jack’s early memories centre on walking through these lands with her family, gathering food and hunting, camping among the dunes, and at times participating in large ceremonial gatherings with other nomadic tribes. Jack’s process of sketching in the skeleton substructure of the land, (in deep purples or Prussian blue) and then over-painting with loose and continuous dotting, in varying, sometimes starkly contrasted hues, retraces a palpable sense of this absorbing world. She married her promised husband and had children but was gradually forced to walk westwards in search of food and water, eventually coming to the coast and settling at Bidyadanga during the 1960s.  She was considered the senior law women for the Yulparitja people and her paintings remain as important symbols of a lost time and the unique affinity between a people and their country. In 2007, some of the group, including Jack, made an artistic and healing pilgrimage back into the desert, documented in the film Desert Heart.   Profile author: Sophie Pierce  

Though she began painting at the aged care unit in Bidyadanga as early as 2000, paintings by Weaver Jack did not appear at auction for the first time until 2006 and it was not until 2009 that her first work sold for more than $10,000. With her works in high demand in galleries and through Emily Rohr's Short Street Gallery in Broome , the $12,000 paid for Lungarung 2005 at Deutscher & Hackett (Lot 66) was well within the range of expectation. It  was eclipsed the following year by a work sold at Sotheby's for $13,800 which still stands as the artists record price. However, her results had been uneven with only 6 of 14 works finding new homes. By 2014, 26 works had been offered at public auction and of these only 12 had sold. Her  success rate was a very poor 46%. However results for Weaver Jack's works rose dramatically during 2015 and 2016. With the passing of the last of the great Bidyadanga artists the unique and highly desirable artworks created by the tiny handful of Yulparaja elders dried up in the primary market. Every single one of the six works offered in 2015 and seven in 2016 found willing buyers lifting her clearance rate dramatically to 59%. Weaver Jack's tenth highest result is still a lowly $6,100. In 2016 one work crept into her top ten in ninth place. She was the 40th most successful artist that year and having now exceeded the 20 sales required to exceed the low threshold in this statistical analysis her career rating is seeing her rapidly scale the chart of the top artists of the movement. In 2019 another work moved into the top ten in firth place. She is now 159th even though only four results have exceeded $10,000 and her average price at sale is still just $6,320. Within the next 5 years she is almost certain to record more than 10 results over $10,000. By this time she will be insinuating herself into the top 100 artists of all time.

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