The remote aboriginal community of Papunya is about four hours west of Alice Springs. It’s a long way from Nichola Dare’s gallery at Bronte in Sydney and a very long way from Central London, where she grew up; but Nichola looks totally at home sitting on the art centre floor, methodically working her way through a pile of canvasses. She considers many but selects just a few, recognising most of the artists’ styles immediately and occasionally calling out their often Victorian-sounding names to the art centre manager: “Is Doris painting much at the moment?” The large pile of canvases slowly moves from one side of Nichola to the other, only a handful earning a “that’s beautiful” and a place on a much smaller pile. These will be carefully packed, and loaded into her four wheel drive to begin a journey back to Sydney that starts with a week heading in exactly the opposite direction.
Papunya was the first art centre on a trip that would take us north-west from Alice on the Tanami Track - over 1000kms of unsealed red dirt road joining the centre of Australia to the East Kimberley. We would see a lot of red dirt over the coming days: some a straight line pointing to the horizon, some an eye-stinging fog thrown into the air by road trains the size of Manly Ferries; and some swirling down the plug hole on precious occasions we chanced upon a shower.
A local told us of a short cut from Papunya to the community at Yuendumu. Not only was the road nowhere to be seen on our very detailed map but the directions we had diligently listened to soon bore no relation to where we seemed to be. Hours passed. The fuel gauge headed south as we headed God-knows-where. When we had to stop because a feral camel decided to sit in the middle of the road, the conversation turned to tabloid headlines about unprepared city folk perishing in the desert and choosing which actors should play us in the movie of our tragic demise.
It is, of course, entirely possible for a Sydney or Melbourne gallery to obtain aboriginal work from Western Desert art centres without having to stop for camels. Select it online and a few weeks later it arrives in the city. But Nichola is insistent that if you want to get the best art, at least once a year you have to put in the hard yards to build relationships with the art centres and the artists. ‘Hard Yards’ is perhaps misleading as she clearly loves every inch of the experience: watching the landscape change as we head north-west; training my untrained eye how the paintings subtly but unmistakably change with it; and most of all spending time with the artists, who she anticipates with rock star excitement – the experience heightened by the uncertainty of who will be where on any given day.
Nichola’s commitment to the ‘hard yards’ is well-appreciated by her fast-growing group of loyal customers. When we hit a pocket of mobile coverage her phone pings with responses to the Instagram posts of work selected on Day One. What size is the Lisa Mills Pwerle? How much is the Candy Nakamarra? Can I have first option on the Isobel Gorey?
Her customers can be as eclectic as her small gallery, wedged between the barber and the Post Office in Bronte in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs. A short walk to the beach but a million miles from the overpriced tourist art she politely suggests is doing neither the artists nor the category any favours. There’s also some distance between Nichola’s Aboriginal Contemporary and the often-intimidating atmosphere of more formal galleries. Deliberately so. Nichola set out to create an environment where ordinary people can buy the very best aboriginal art in a friendly and relaxed environment. She beams as she tells of a bus driver who saw a Nora Wompi in the window while driving past and returned later with his wife, both of whom had a knowledge and passion for aboriginal art that rivalled her own.
At Papunya, Nichola finds work from an emerging artist who has just sold her first canvases to the National Gallery and they tell of an overseas collector who wouldn’t leave the art centre until he was allowed to buy a painting for twice its retail price. At Balgo, Nichola meets legendary artist Helicopter Tjungarrayi, who got his name when the first helicopter ever seen by his community rescued him after an accident. At Mangkaja, Nichola sits with Dolly Snell while she explains the story she is painting. Soon Dolly and fellow artist, Spider (who is asleep on the porch) will go to their country in the Great Sandy Desert for ceremony. How long will they be away? The question is met with bemusement. Time is different here.
We meet many different characters with many different opinions but all united in their disapproval of ‘Carpetbagers’ - who muddy the waters, exploit the artists and damage confidence in the market. The aboriginal art ‘bubble’ at the turn of the millennium is now but a memory and everyone is genuinely optimistic about the future. They are buoyed both by the success of this year’s Desert Mob and a recent article from a Melbourne art critic describing aboriginal art as ‘the most undervalued art in the country’.
By Darwin, Nichola’s 4WD has many rolls of canvases in the back and more than 3,000kms on the clock. Farewell to the Northern Territory for now. Next stop her gallery in Bronte, where several dozen stunning new works will soon be on display. Nichola’s phone pings yet again. It’s another Instagram enquiry. Looks like a piece of aboriginal art from the Western Desert has a new home in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney.
I am delighted to announce a special exhibition showcasing work by two of Mangkaja Arts rising stars - Jeani Rangi and Phyllis Waye. A special preview evening will be held on Thursday 7th November from 6.00 p.m. at the Aboriginal Contemporary to launch the show.
Both artists are well established and are becoming known for their use of colour and intriguing composition. In 2012 Phyllis Waye won Best Emerging Artist at the prestigious Kimberley Art Prize with Jeani Rangi winning the Kimberley Art Prize Overall Category in 2013.
There's so much to talk about at the moment, so here is a quick round up of what is going on!
Firstly, there was a lovely blog in http://www.adoremagazine.com/blog/ It shows how aboriginal art can work in a contemporary home. It just happened to be my home! The blog has an interview with me and here are some of the picutres featured.
Next week I am off on a big trip to the APY lands in South Australia and the Northern Territory. For two weeks I will not spend two nights in one place, drive thousands of miles on those beautifully straight red roads and no one will be able to get hold of me (yes I am a Vodafone customer!) However I will be posting on Facebook and Instagram.
I am really excited about spending time in the art centres and with the artists themselves, with the best bit being I can hand pick work that I know will be loved by customers of Aboriginal Contemporary.
To follow the trip, click and "like" on the following links:
We have a great show coming up in October, which seems a long way away but oh how quickly it will come! One of the stars of the show is Jeani Rangi, from Mangkaja Arts, who has just been awarded the Kimberly Art Prize for best emerging artist. It is safe to say that I am VERY excited by her work and here is a sneak peek!
I thought I would just update everyone as to how you can access Aboriginal Contemporary via a couple of different methods. The first being facebook, yes (behind as we are!) we now have a fully functioning and working page dedicated to Aboriginal Contemporary https://www.facebook.com/AboriginalContemporary
The benefits of 'liking us' on facebook are that you will be privee to seeing new work as it comes into the shop, and we will also run special offers specifically for our facebook followers.
The second is Instagram and our address for this is https://www.instagram.com/aboriginal.contemporary. For those of you who are new to instagram it runs along the same lines as facebook but is purely a visual insight into the day to day going's on in the shop showing new art, homewares and other gorgeous finds that come through the door.
You will not be inundated with information as (for those who know me know) I am a tad chaotic, however I hope I will be able to inspire you and share with you some of the best art that is available in Australia today.
As many of you already know I’m very passionate about the new locale of the shop and design business. Charing Cross has been part of my life for the past 5 years as my kiddies go to school in the area. It’s meant that I’ve really grown to love the strip and it’s quirky little shops. I thought over the next few weeks I’d introduce you to some of our local secrets.
Aboriginal Contemporary is not so much of a secret any more as it’s been in Charing Cross for almost 2 years now. Run by the uber-talented Nichola Zammit, Aboriginal Contemporary houses an ever-changing collection of authentic aboriginal art as well as a brightly coloured selection of home furnishings. Nic’s team and mine have become fast friends and are always referring our lovely clients to the other end of the street for some additional ideas and lovely artworks. Be sure to pop in and say hi when you’re next passing through!
Please join us on Saturday 1st or Sunday 2nd of December 2012 from 9am – 5pm.
In thanks for the support we’ve received from the local community throughout the year all the shops in the Charing Cross have come together for this weekend and are offering some great discounts on their beautiful wares.
Come and do your Christmas shopping in the calm relaxed atmosphere of Charing Cross.