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Wally Mandarrk

Wayarra (Male and Female Spirits) - c.1980

natural earth pigments on bark
120 x 83 cm
Price Realised: $7,320.00

MP #655


Painted in the Maningrida region, Central Arnhem Land, NT
Private Collection, NSW

Born around 1915, Wally Mandarrk grew up in south-central Arnhem Land. He spent time at Marlkawo, near Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek’s country of Kabulwarnamyo. He did not meet a European until 1946, when he began work at a sawmill in Maranboy. By all accounts, he remained a private and traditional man, avoiding contact with Balanda (non-Indigenous people). Through the 1960s and 70s, Mandarrk lived at a number of bush camps before establishing Yaymini outstation with his family in remote Arnhem escarpment country.

Mandarrk's art practice reflects his traditional character. He continued using orchid juice (djalamardi, Dendrobium sp. - orchid) as a binder for his ochres, long after bark artists were introduced to PVA glue. His works are distinctive for the simple, stocky outline of his figures, infilled with bands of red, white, and yellow cross-hatching (rarrk) on a plain red background. His alignment of the diagonal bands of rarrk is often quite uni-directional and vertical. The extremities of figures and other objects are often filled with more simple, parallel rarrk, without cross-hatching.

As in this work, many of Mandarrk's paintings depict Wayarra, profane ghost or demon spirits. The existence of these spirits is often the reason certain areas are not visited and regarded as dangerous places.

Mandarrk’s works were collected during the 1948 American-Australian scientific expedition to Arnhem Land. They were also bought by the Maningrida art centre in its earliest days. His works have been included in exhibitions such as Power of the Land: Masterpieces of Aboriginal Art at the National Gallery of Victoria (1994), the international touring exhibition Aratjara - Art of the First Australians (1993-4), Kunwinjku Bim at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1984-5, and Art of Aboriginal Australia, which toured North America in 1974-76.