During a whirlwind painting career that lasted just eight years, octogenarian Emily Kame Kngwarreye became Aboriginal Australia’s most successful living artist and carved an enduring presence in the history of Australian art. By the time she passed away on September the 2nd 1996 her fame had achieved mythic status. The Sydney Morning Herald obituary reported the ‘Passing of a Home Grown Monet’. By this time comparisons with a number of great international artists including Pollock, Kandinsky, Monet and Matise, had become commonplace. Emily was an artistic superstar, the highest paid woman in the country, who created one of the most significant artistic legacies of our time.
As a painter Emily was a bold, unselfconscious force unleashing colour and movement on to canvases that at their best could be sublime. Her finest paintings are entirely intuitive works, painted during furious sessions in which she never stepped back to look. Her forceful independent personality coupled with the strength she developed while working with camels and labouring during her earlier life was clearly evident as she painted. She worked as if possessed, drawing long meandering lines and bashing out fields of dots with her exceptionally strong hands and arms, displaying her ability to use the most unlikely overlays of colours to create deeply luminous works. Like Pollock she painted on the ground but, unlike him, she crouched over the canvas until done. She was renowned for walking away from a canvas without even surveying the finished product, such was her assuredness about its content and meaning.