88 Career Overall Rank
34 2020 Market Rank
Paintings by Bobby Nganjmirra have a very impressive sales history considering his works first appeared in 1992, three years before the first specialist Aboriginal art auction in Australia. Given the number of barks and works on paper that have been offered since that time, the average price of his successful artworks at auction is understandably low at $3,337. The vast majority of his paintings have been small works on bark. Nevertheless, he is still the 89th most successful artist of the movement and the 7th most successful Arnhem Land bark painter.
It is strange, given the phenomenal prices paid for works by his contemporary David Yirawala, and non-figurative barks by the comparatively junior artist John Mawurndjurl, that only two lots by this formative figure in the genesis of Western Arnhem Land bark tradition have sold for more than $10,800. His record was set when a group of 10 barks carrying a pre-sale estimate of $50,000-70,000 sold at Bonham's auctions in 2011 (Lot 17) for $60,000. However, the highest price paid for any individual work has stood since 2004 when Ubar Ceremony, a bark measuring a whopping 366 x 68 cms sold at Lawson~Menzies for $21,600. Two very similar small works , obviously created around the same period in the 1960s currently hold 5th and 10th highest recorded prices. Bird and Barramundi, and Skeletons Barramundi and Bird, both sold at Sotheby's in 2009, the first for $8,400 and the second for $4,800.
While Arnhem Land works on paper generally languish in the secondary market, a work in this medium by Bobby Nganjmirra achieved his seventh highest sale at $6,710 in 2012. Provenance carried this work to such heights. The painting, which measured 153 x 100 cm, sold at Mossgreen's auction of works from the collection of John Kluge. Of the other 23 works on paper by Bobby that have been presented at auction only 2 have sold for more than $2,500 while only 8 have sold for more than $1000. Half have failed to find a buyer on the night.
Bobby Nganjmirra was an important influence on the emerging Aboriginal art movement throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He was capable of creating spectacular barks, yet very few of these have appeared at public sale so far. Those that have been preferred to date, have been the more ethnographic looking small barks that impart a museological feel to Tier I auction offerings. There are definitely major works yet to be discovered. When they appear, watch with interest. It may be possible to purchase something spectacular at a fraction of the price paid for a ubiquitous non-figurative fields of crosshatching by Mawurndjurl or one of his contemporaries.
Bobby Barrdjaray Nganjmirra is among the best known of the older generation of Kunwinjku artists, which includes Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek, Yirawala and Dick Nguleingulei Murrumurru. The Nganjmirra family has preserved a strong and recognisable figurative style throughout successive generations. His younger brothers Jimmy Nakkurridjdjilmi Nganjmirra (c.1917-1982) and Peter Nganjmirra (1927-1987) were also well known painters, and many of their children and grandchildren have established artistic careers.
Nganjmirra was born around 1915 at Malworn, his father’s country between the Goomadeer and Liverpool rivers in West Arnhem Land. Marlwon is best known as a Yawk Yawk (female water spirit) Dreaming site, the primary Dreaming of Bobby Nganjmirra’s branch of the Djalama clan. Nganjmirra was brought up in Marlwon living a traditional lifestyle, visiting Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) for a short time in 1930 at the invitation of a stockman who visited the group. He subsequently spent a short time at school there and on Goulburn Island. After the Second World War he worked with the anthropologists Roland and Catherine Berndt and later, in 1975, he became a member of the Aboriginal Arts Board, having by that time concentrated on bark painting for some years.
Most of Bobby Nganjmirra’s work was produced in ochre on bark, although he also did sketches on paper and a number of large scale ochre and acrylic works on paper for the John W. Kluge Commission at the end of his life in 1991-2. These were undertaken at the Injalak Art Centre, which was established in 1989. The incredibly wide range of his subject matter, from many sacred and profane stories to natural subjects, is testament to his high ceremonial status, knowledge and artistic confidence. He painted the stories of his own Yirridjdja moiety clan such as Luma Luma, Likanaya and Marrayka (the Yawk Yawk Sisters, first ancestors of the Djalama clan), as well as those of neighbouring areas such as Nimbuwah rock and Baby Dreaming from Kudjekbinj.
His style is notable for its expressiveness - the mouths, eyes and noses of his figures contort to many emotive shapes and their limbs appear to dance in all directions. A naive and sketch-like stylistic tendency in many of his works is more the result of the primacy of 'story' in his painting over decorative qualities. Like many other western Kunwinjku painters he favoured multiple figures in his compositions, again heightening the sense of narrative. Most western Kunwinjku art draws upon the figurative rock painting tradition, and some of Bobby Nganjmirra’s earliest works display the parallel red hatching on white silhouettes typical of works on rock. However he soon turned to cross-hatching, a style associated with painting for the Mardayin ceremony.
Bobby Nganjmirra’s work has been featured in a number of major exhibitions, including Old Masters - Australia’s Great Bark Artists at the National Museum of Australia in 2013, The Continuing Tradition at the National Gallery of Australia in 1989 and Kunwinjku Bim at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1984.
After his death Bobby was known for some time by his skin name Nawakadj, as in the monograph on his stories and work Kunwinjku Spirit: Nawakadj Nganjmirra, Artist and Story-teller edited by Neil McLeod. However, in Gunbalanya he is still sometimes referred to by his nickname “Ten Million” (the price he was purported to have raise for his paintings), reflecting the humour of this early master of modern Kunwinjku art.
Profile author: Dan Kennedy
Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council, held by the National Museum of Canberra.; Artbank, Sydney.; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.; Australian Museum, Sydney.; Berndt Museum of Anthropology, University of Western Australia.; Campbelltown City Art Gallery, NSW.; Desert Rose Restaurant, Yulara Complex, Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park.; Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin.; Museum of Contemporary Art, Arnotts Collection, Sydney.; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.; The Holmes a Court Collection, Perth.; The Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica, U.S.A.
1984, The First National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin; 1984/85, Kunwinjku Bim, Western Arnhem Land Paintings from the collection of the Aboriginal Arts Board, National Gallery of Victoria; 1985, The Second National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin; 1986, The Art of the First Australians, Kobe City Museum, Japan; 1986, The Third National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin; 1988, Aboriginal art of the Top End, c.1935-Early 1970s, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; 1988, Yolngu, Aboriginal cultures of north Australia, The Royal Pavillion, Art Gallery & Museums, Brighton, United Kingdom.; 1989, Aboriginal Art: The Continuing Tradition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; 1990, Balance 1990: views, visions, influences, Queensland Art Gallery, QLD; 1990, Spirit in Land, Bark Paintings from Arnhem Land, National Gallery of Victoria; 1990, The Seventh National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council,1979, Oenpelli Bark Painting, Ure Smith, Sydney. (C) ; Allen, L., 1975, Time Before Morning: Art and Myth of the Australian Aborigines, Thomas Crowell Company, New York. ; Brody, A., 1984, Kunwinjku Bim: Western Arnhem Land Paintings from the Collection of the Aboriginal Arts Board, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.(C) ; Caruana, W., 1993, Aboriginal Art, Thames and Hudson, London. (C) ; Groger-Wurm, H., 1977, 'Schematisation in Aboriginal bark paintings.' In Ucko, P. (ed.), Form in Indigenous Art, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra. ; Hill, M., and McLeod, N.,1984, From the Ochres of Mungo, Aboriginal Art Today, Dorr McLeod Publishing, West Heidleberg, Victoria. (C) ; Isaacs, J., 1984, Australia's Living Heritage, Arts of the Dreaming, Lansdowne Press, Sydney. (C) ; Isaacs, J., 1989, Australian Aboriginal Paintings, Weldon Publishing, New South Wales. ; Norton, F., 1975, Aboriginal Art, Western Australian Art Gallery Board with the assistance of the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council. ; Ryan, J., 1990, Spirit in Land, exhib. cat., National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. ; 1990, Balance 1990: Views, Visions, Influences, exhib. cat., Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane. (C) ; Sydney Morning Herald, 12/6/1992 (Artists seek aid for legal action). ; Sydney Morning Herald, 12/6/1992 (Aboriginal art in a spin over row). ; 1994, Kunwinjku Art from Injalak 1991-1992, The John W. Kluge Commission, Museum Arts International Pty. Ltd., North Adelaide.
Kimberly, Jonathon. 2000. Beyond the Pale: Contemporary Indigenous Art. South Australia. Art Gallery of South Australia.
Discovery Media. current. NATSIVAD. Melbourne. Documentation Pty Ltd.
Aboriginal Arts Board. 1979. Oenpelli bark painting. Sydney. Ure Smith.
Nganjmirra, Nawakadj & McLeod, Neil (ed.). 1997. Kunwinjku spirit : creation stories from western Arnhem Land / Nawakadj Nganjmirra, artist and story. Carlton, Vic. Miegunyah Press at Melbourne University Press.
National Museum of Australia. 2013. Old masters : Australia's great bark artists (exh. cat). Canberra. National Museum of Australia Press.
Kudjekbinj, Malworn, Nimbuwah
Yawk Yawk, Mimi Spirits, Ngalyod Rainbow Serpent, Baby Dreaming, Nimbuwah Rock, Wubarr Ceremony, Namorrkon Lightning Man, Lumaluma, Kunabibi Ceremony
Natural Earth Pigment on Eucalyptus Bark, Works on Paper