Image: 29.5 x 39.5cm, Paper 39.5 x 52cm HANNEMUHLE
Nyapanyapa’s work has been more valued for the spontaneity and texture of her hand. She expresses her capacity to live in the moment in the freeness of her mark making. There is no calculation or even regard for the audience in her renditions. Their final appearance is almost random. They are an expression of the movements of her hand as they happen to have taken place on that particular day. Her earliest work was as a maker of small carvings and barks but she became involved very early in theYirrkala Print Space after it opened in 1996. In fact she was the 4th artist to create through that studio.
In early 2008 she made a dramatic departure from the previous conventions of Yolngu art.
The grammatic tense which Yolngu sing/paint/discuss the creation forces that shape their world is unknown to non-Indigenous. Sometimes simplified as ‘Dreamtime’ in English it conveys a temporal union between prehistory, the present and the distant future. All of these time zones are happening simultaneously! This is the tense in which the creation events happened/are happening/will happen. All Yolngu art until this point was either sacred and in this tense or decorative. Decorative paintings were expressly ‘ordinary’ and without meaning or story of any kind.
But once prompted to treat the story of her almost fatal goring by a Buffalo in the seventies Nyapanyapa threw these conventions over and unleashed a unique set of personal narrative paintings revolving around her own experiences. This subjective, individualistic and linear narrative construction was totally out of step with all previous Yolngu art. The first of these was so surprising it was entered in the 2008 Telstra NATSIAA Award. To bolster the chances of preselection an explanatory video was produced by the newly founded digital archive and studio attached to Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, The Mulka Project. As it happened the video was completed after the bark had been accepted but the entry was varied to include the bark and video as a 3D installation. Another first was achieved when it won that prize in the Telstra Award.
On the night she received the prize she had a nightmare of the Buffalo and vowed never to paint the beast again. From here she d/evolved into works that initially showed the forest without the Buffalo and then simple abstraction. Dharpa is the generic word for tree, bush, wood and grasses.
She then completed a series of 115 white paint pen on acetates which became a digital algorithm known as Light Painting. From here she worked on acetates for a while and then began working on the back of discarded print proofs from The Yirrkala Print Space. All of the TPA series (Test Print Acetates) have some kind of print on their reverse which has been abandoned and then reworked on the verso by Nyapanyapa. These were the first works drawn and painted on paper by Yirrkala artists offered for sale through Buku-Larrnggay since its inception in 1975. The liberalisation of canons about using natural media following the Found exhibition allowed for the use of recycled non-natural media. The next development were a small series of G works which were drawn and painted on segments of a wide roll of grey card which had been brought as a photographic backdrop for a visiting photographer. This had been left behind and unused for some years before being retrieved from the discard pile.
She then returned to working on acetates but for their own purpose not as a source of digital work. Other excursions included working on board left behind by the Bangarra Dance Theatre at Yirrkala and also mirrors.