Anatjari No. III Tjakamarra
Anatjari No. III Tjakamarra
1938 - 1992
Antajari was one of the last group of desert nomads to leave his homeland and settle at Papunya.* From the outset he emerged as a focused and compelling artistic presence within the initial painting group. Geoff Bardon remembered him as 'a slightly built man with a particularly calm and gentle manner…very attentive and interested in what was going on but saying nothing' (2004: 71).
When began painting he was working with Uta Uta as a gardener at the local school. He used to congregated after work with others in the small flat where the first discussions and artistic experiments began. Soon, a separate painting area was established and the different tribes with their specific Dreamings, often connected through a once shared terrain, came together as one painting group. 'They were extraordinarily happy to have an opportunity to paint their own stories,' Bardon later wrote, 'At least five or six separate groups of men joined in the sudden blossoming of their traditional art, each in their own way…accompanied by friends who also wanted to draw, paint or sell something' (1986: 39). Bardon played a crucial role as friend and adviser in guiding the raw intensity of early experimentation towards a more disciplined and workable visual language. Within the medley of early free form, some of the men responded more acutely to his explanations of stylistic intelligibility and the dynamics of pattern and form, despite language difficulties and conceptual differences. Anatjari, worked with concentrated attention, always in his customary spot, rarely speaking, refining his method and helping to forge the distinctive Pintupi style. Anatjari’s early works were influenced strongly by the precise line work of Kaapa Tjampitjinpa, which in time came to characterize his own paintings. These were noted by Dick Kimber to be ritually very correct and to contain secret imagery meant only for the eyes of initiated men
Anatjarri's finely crafted compositions were informed by his deep wish and need to reconnect with his country and the sacred sites that gave life and meaning to his people. Their 'highly accessible visual logic' stemmed from his ability to pare down significant features of a Dreaming ceremony or journey into a well-balanced and synchronized whole (Sutton 1988: 81). In building on the arrangement of geometric forms, and reflecting their earthbound origins through traditional colours, Anatjari’s strong use of line emitted a powerful sense of gravitas. He was, as Bardon explained, 'forever traveling west to his beloved homelands and affirming the sacredness of the places there' (2004: 50). By thinning the consistency of his paint he created a slightly translucent effect, imparting a distinctive quality that has been attributed to a constant and close reading of the land as a blueprint for nomadic survival and spiritual sustenance. The graphic network, of lines of travel, linking sites or resting places, forms a dense map of Pintupi country. The Tingari Cycle, Anatjari’s enduring subject, re-traces and re-affirms this relationship between the land, its people and their mythology.
Supported by his artistic success Anatjari was able to return to his homelands in the early 1980’s. He played a leading role in the establishment of Tjukurla outstation, situated between Kintore and Docker River and lived there for a number of years. From here he painted works which were included in the landmark exhibitions Dot and Circle 1985, Face of the Centre, National Gallery of Victoria 1985, Dreamings The Art of Aboriginal Australia, Asia Society New York 1988 and The Inspired Dream which toured nationally and internationally throughout 1988. He lived and worked at the new settlement of Kiwirrkurra through the mid to late 1980’s and, prior to his death in 1992, had solo exhibitions at John Weber Gallery in New York and Gabrielle Pizzi Gallery in Melbourne. Anatjari No. III Tjakamarra was by this time represented in many international collections and honoured as one of the masters of the earliest period of contemporary Aboriginal desert art. Having lived beyond the regular reach of Papunya Tula for a large part of his later life he became one of the first Pintupi artists to work independently of the company. He was the first of the Western Desert painters to be represented in a major international art collection when his work was selected from the Papunya Tula exhibition at John Weber Gallery in 1988 for inclusion in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
* Subject of the book The Lizard Eaters by Douglas Woodlock and the documentary film Desert People by Ian Dunlop.
Until 2010, the majority of Anatjari's top ten results were for works created during the 1990s. In this regard he stood apart from the majority of the early painters who worked with Bardon. His late career success saw two works, both created at the end of his life, overshadow the results for those he created during the early 1970s. When offered for sale through Sotheby’s in July 2003 (Lot 178) and July 2004 (Lot 108) these two paintings (created for Papunya Tula in 1989, and 1990) carried presale estimates of $100,000-150,000. Both sold for $118,000 including the buyer’s premium despite their appreciable difference in size.
In 2010 however, the resale of a 1973 board entitled Story of a Woman's Camp and the Origin Of Damper more than doubled Sotheby’s low estimate when it sold for $384,000, at its July sale (Lot 55).
This sale is in keeping with the trend that 1972-1973 boards generally fair better than those created in 1971, the first year of the Papunya movement. The fact that eight of Anatjiari’s current top ten results were created during these two years clearly indicates that collectors prefer the more accomplished imagery and greater size of these paintings to his earliest 1971 works, despite their historical significance and sacred content.
This is amply illustrated by the fortunes of two embelatic 1973 works both coincidentally entitled Kuningka. Kuningka 1973 originally sold for $74,000 at Sotheby's in 1998 when estimated at $50,000-80,000. It has been re-offered since that time. It failed to sell at Bonhams in 2011, although the ambitious estimate of $200,000-300,000 was undoubtably the cause. And failed once more in Sotheby's London Sale in 2015 when carrying a presale estimate of GBP75,000-100,000. Another work with the same name has experienced an even more tortuous journey through auction. Originally offered under the name Porcupine Danger Men Only 1973, it first appeared for sale at Sotheby's in 2001 and changed hands for $35,750. The work subsequently failed to sell at Sotheby's in 2006, Bonhams in 2011 and Deutscher & Hackett in 2014, while carrying $50,000-70,000 expectation on each occasion. Finally, in December 2019, the work was ncluded in the 33 work offering at Sotheby;s first New York venture into Aboriginal art. This time, in spite of the huge fanfair attendent to the sale and the tiny number of works on offer, it finally sold for a modest $USD47,500, or $AUD68,823 incl BP.
Anatjari's most successful year at auction was 2010. In that year all five works on offer sold at an average of $110,380 and a total of $551,900. This gave Anatjari III the highest ranking during the year of any Aboriginal artist. It propelled him to an overall rank of 15th most successful artist of the entire movement. Yet his results have not been as good since. He was 19th most successful artist in 2012 results but has had only five sales since. In 2015 a very nice rendition of a Men's Ceremony created in 1971 sold for $60,000 including buyer's premium. 2016 saw only one of the three works on offer selling, though it reached number 5 in his top ten at $93,000. Aside from breaking the top 5, Big Pintupi Ceremonial Occasion also replaced A Cave Dreaming 1972 (sold in 1996) as the highest price to date for a work created in 1972.
Anatjari III died in 1992, just before a number of his male contemporaries made the conceptual leap away from dense ethnographic iconography. The primary market prices achieved for these paintings created from the mid 1990s onward became the principle driver of the growing Aboriginal art market prior to the emergence of women’s painting in the early years of the new millennium. Even so, the paintings he created in the late 1980s are the most sought after and valued of all 1980s canvases created by men of the Western Desert. They are rare, but it is unlikely that sales of his late career works will dominate those of his very best early (1972-1973) boards. For this reason he is likely to be considered as an important early influence in the emergence of desert painting rather than an artist of supreme distinction.