106 Career Overall Rank
- 2018 Market Rank
For an artist whose bark paintings first appeared (unsuccessfully) at public auction in 1999 Thomas Amagula's market performance since 2009 has been quite remarkable. In that year he forged his way into the top 200 artists of the movement for the first time leapfrogging more than 200 artists on the back of the sale at Sotheby's of a collection of small barks which netted $132,000 including the buyer's premium. These 17 small barks from the collection of William McE. Miller, Jr, in the USA., thematically explored what happens to a man after he dies on Groote Eylandt. On the back of this one sale alone he became the 83rd most successful artists of all time. By the end of the following year he had reached 80th his highest raking to date. He is now 95th.
Prior to this his record price was the $7440 paid at Sotheby's in 2008 for two untitled barks depicting a Pelican story that were originally purchased through the Church Missionary Society. In one, a small boy gets his brother to climb up to collect little pelicans for him. In the next, a man becomes a bird and flies away. This same pair of barks reappeared in Deutscher and Hackett's, Important Aboriginal and Oceanic Art, sale in Melbourne, in March 2010 (Lot No. 99) , this time selling for $15,600, the artist's second highest auction result.
Overall, 20 lots have appeared thus far at auction of which 14 have sold for a success rate of 70%. The strong market performance of early bark paintings from Groote Eylandt during the past decade is mirrored in the sales of several formative artists who created works in this style. Paintings by these artists have become highly desirable and average prices paid for fine examples by Nandjwarra and others are likely to continue to rise into the future.
The high profile of Groote Eylandt bark painting has its roots in the past. Like other traditions that developed from rock art, it traditionally had a magical or ceremonial purpose. However a strong aesthetic quality also made an impression on collectors from the earliest times of European involvement on the island. Groote Islanders painted and decorated the inside walls of their bark huts, and because of trade and exchange with Macassan fishermen from Indonesia also had an interest in more secular and self expressive forms of painting. Groote Eylandt is renowned for its several rock painting sites where the imagery relates directly to that found on sheets of bark. The use of a characteristically monochrome black background, with figurative elements described in areas of dots, dashes and hatching, outlined with contrasting red, white or yellow, became known as the old or classic style (emerging in the 1920s).The black ground is obtained from manganese. Groote Eylandt has some of the world's largest deposits of the mineral. Though there are cultural connections and stylistic affinities between western Anindilyakwa people and the Nunggubuyu and Yolngu tribesmen in Arnhem Land, the painting style is markedly distinct from those practiced on the mainland.
The first collections of bark paintings from Groote Eylandt were made by the anthropologist Norman Tindale who assembled the first collection in 1921-1922 (now in the collection of the South Australian Museum). Tindale was followed by Frederick Rose from 1938, with the assistance of a white resident of the island and later superintendent of the Umbakumba settlement, Fred Gray. Gray was an entrepreneurial type who sought to encourage local Groote Islanders in bark painting as a means of financial independence from the often restrictive church and government obligations. As a young man, Nandjiwarra visited his father Damandu who was working within the Umbakumba community.
Author: Sophie Pierce
Edited: Adrian Newstead
Musee des Arts Africans et Oceaniens, Paris, France.; Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin.; Museum of Contemporary Art, Arnotts Collection, Sydney.; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.; Ruhe Collection of Australian Aboriginal Art, U.S.A.;
2002 - Exposition collective, La Loire-Atlantique donne rendez-vous à l’Australie, Art et Culture des Antipodes, Arts d’Australie • Stéphane Jacob / Conseil Général de Loire-Atlantique, Nantes.
1991 - Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, High Court, Canberra.
1989 - Aboriginal Art: The Continuing Tradition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
Bibliography: Caruana, W., 1993, Aboriginal Art, Thames and Hudson, London. (C); Bush, C.,1990, Explorers to Groote Eylandt, in Pascoe, B., (ed.), 1990, Aboriginal Short Stories, No. 32, Pascoe Publishing, Apollo Bay, Victoria. ; Crumlin, R., (ed.), 1991, Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, Collins Dove, North Blackburn, Victoria. (C) ; Dussart, F., 1993, La Peinture des Aborigines D'Australie, Editions Parentheses, Marseille, France. ; Kupka, K., 1972, Peintres Aborigines d' Australie, Societe des Oceanistes, Musee de l'Homme, Paris. ; Tweedie, P., 1985, This My Country, A View of Arnhem Land, William Collins Pty Ltd, Sydney.
Allen, Lindy. 2008. They Are Meditating, Bark Paintings from the MCAâ€™s Arnottâ€™s Collection. Sydney. Museum of Contemporary Art.
Bosse, Joanna. 2007. Creation Tracks and Trade Winds (exh. cat). Melbourne. Ian Potter Gallery.
Natural Earth Pigment on Eucalyptus Bark