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John Mawurndjul

Namarrkon (the Lightning Spirit) - 1993

natural earth pigments and synthetic binder on Eucalyptus bark
156 x 65 cm
Price Realised: $19,520.00

MP #685


Maningrida Arts and Culture, NT Cat No. JM1583
Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Vic (label attached verso)
Private Collection, Vic

Certificate of authenticity from Maningrida Arts and Culture attached verso


John Mawurndjul: New Work, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne, 20 November - 22 December 2007, cat.18

Mawurndjul painted collaboratively with his older brother, Jimmy Njiminjuma, until the late 1970s. At this early stage in his painting career, the primary subject matter for his work was the mythology of the surrounding environment at Milmilngkan. Throughout the early to mid 1980s, Mawurndjul painted small barks of Ngalyod (the Rainbow Serpent), other spirit beings including Namarrkon (the Lightning Spirit), and various depictions of the local natural species, such as fish, bandicoots, and possum. In all these subjects he paid precise attention to anatomical detail.

Mawurndjul’s work at this time reflected his place as an heir to the long painting tradition of Kuninjku artists, who had created magnificent bark paintings over the previous decade. Though artists such as Yirawala, Peter Marralwanga, and Mick Kubarkku incorporated rarrk designs into their art, this ‘design element’ remained secondary to the figurative elements, rarely leaving the interior of the figure and instead employing a plain background. This, in time, came to be thought of as the quintessential Central and Western Arnhem Land painting style.

As time progressed, however, Mawurndjul increasingly allowed the rarrk designs to dominate, filling both the interior and surrounding space of his figures. By the mid 1990s, he had abandoned figurative iconography all but completely. This work is a very rare exception.

In this painting, Mawurndjul has depicted the Lightning Spirit in its female manifestation. The Lightning spirit Namarrkon lives above the clouds and controls the electrical storms, also associated with the monsoon weather in the Top End of the Northern Territory. The Lightning spirit also makes sure aspects of tribal law are not broken, striking fearlessly with bolts of thunder and lightning as punishment.