Visit Utopia with Mbantua Gallery 2017

Visit Utopia with Mbantua Gallery 2017

Posted by Mbantua Gallery, Tim Jennings on 2017 May 19th

Visit Utopia with Tim Jennings and Mbantua Gallery, Meet the artists Susie, Annie and Jessie Hunter. 

Had a great sleep and was up at 7am and on heading out of Alice Springs after a bite to eat, a quick visit to the office and refueling. I usually refuel the night before but had a busy day working in the gallery on the Sunday.

It was pouring with rain in Alice Springs as I headed up the north Stuart Highway and I was wondering if I would be actually able to get out to Utopia, because I know how slippery and dangerous it can get. Anyway, I decided to drive to the end of the bitumen some 100 kilometers away and decide what to do then.

Wet roads in Central Australia

When I got there, the sky across to the west was clearing in patches but to the east it was thunderously black! I headed up the dirt road finding it was really slippery in some spots where I was down to 30kph and half reasonable in other patches. My worst fear was slipping off the road down into the soggy culverts and getting hopelessly bogged. If I had another person with me, I definitely would have turned back. But I didn’t, so I decided to keep going.

Photo right: road 120 kms from Alice

The main reason why I really wanted to keep going was so that I could collect any completed paintings and distribute new canvas so that they could have a chance to finish them before Christmas. The artists, like anyone else, like to have some Christmas money in their pocket. Also it was only 19 degrees Celsius, when normally it is 40 degrees plus at this time of the year! So temperature wise to work in was great plus there was no dust nor any other traffic (thus far anyway).

When I got up near the truck stop it was really, really slippery and I met my first other road user heading back into town. I waved her down – a lady in a Barkly regional Council vehicle. She said it was still bad for another 20kms to the Mulga Bore turnoff, but then improved immensely. That was good news but then a strange light on my dashboard started flashing – and I didn’t want little known lights scaring me!! But it didn’t last long thank goodness!!

At 11.19am I finally arrived at the bitumen at Alparra Store, and the road had been good from the Mulga Bore turnoff as the lady had said. The skies had also cleared a lot and the temperature was up to 26 degrees! I was pleased that I had persevered.

I then headed straight out to Anongabah Outstation where Barbara Weir lives (I still actually call it “Quartpots Outstation” after a really wonderful old gentleman. I suppose it would be 25 years since he passed away now. (And what stories he would have taken unrecorded to the grave… but that’s for another time – maybe…)

I called into see Barbara but she had gone into Alice the previous day. But I did have a really good chat to her son James, whom I hadn’t seen for quite a long time. Then I went down to see Teresa Purla – Barbara’s oldest daughter. And yes we had a good talk too! She showed me a couple of paintings that she had completed for a Sydney gallery and was keen to do one for me too! So I commissioned a 150cm x 120cm (5’ x 4’).

Then Teresa and I headed over to some nearby bush camps and caught up with some artists that I haven’t dealt with a lot in the past mainly because they lived in Irrwelje and some other places that are a bit off the route that I generally take or area I cover in my trips. But Barbara, about a month before, had brought some of them to see me in Alice Springs because she wanted them “in our stable of artists”. So I gave them out some small canvas and white paint to begin with… (Barbara suggested white paint only at that time..)

So I collected quite a few small paintings from Susie Hunter, Jessie Hunter and Janie Morgan…. Some were really good and some were a bit rushed, so along with Teresa we talked about effort and reward from effort. And reward for effort not just meaning financial reward but feeling good about what you have created or accomplished. And Annie Hunter also contributed here. I think it was good bonding.

Aboriginal artists of Utopia. Susie, Annie and Jessie Hunter along with Janie Morgan and Teresa Pwerle

Left: Aboriginal artists of Utopia: Susie Hunter, Annie Hunter, Teresa Purla, Janie Morgan and Jessie Hunter at the back of Tim’s car.

Even though I had some profile pictures of them, some being quite old, I took some new ones. I also gave out more small canvas for them to work on, plus lots of mixed coloured paints. Old Molly Pwerle (Pula) was also there under a humpy and they wanted me to give her some canvas too, so I gave her 5 small linens, and she was really happy.

Susie had at this time moved around to another area and started working on some carved wooden birds. Just using an old chisel she was carving them into shape before later painting them.

Aboriginal artist Susie Hunter carving a bird out of wood.

Michelle and Lily Lion were also living in a bush shelter nearby, along with their mother Queenie. Queenie was looking the best that I had seen her for a long time, so I even asked Lily if she would like to have a few small canvasses to paint while she whiles the hours away, but she didn’t think that she was up to it. So, most probably the Queenie paintings that I have in stock (and I have still got quite a few) will be the last produced. Lily and Michelle had some paintings completed so I bought them and gave them out some new ones. I suggested that they experiment with some new design, perhaps to include lizards, birds or other animals…. But I emphasized to have some fun! We’ll see next month!!

From there, I headed across to Rocket Range Outstation and caught up with lots of the ladies of old there. Katie Kemarre continues to produce good solid dependable work. She had two really good 90 x 90cm paintings finished. Angeline Ngale was there too, and was her normal chatty self…. I picked up quite a bit of art including a 180 x 90cm superb piece from Sarah Morton pictured below.

I left Rocket Range at 3.50pm. It was very humid and the temperature was 27 degrees. Arrived at Soapy Bore some 20 minutes later. Dorothy Jones had a very nice small dot 120 x 90cm painting completed. And Loretta, who usually produced really good quality work, tried to sneak a “fast one” through to me, but I returned it for “more effort”. She laughed and knew!

I then headed to Kurrajong Outstation, but all our artists were elsewhere, then past the store (felt a bit guilty for not dropping into see Lena and Rosie Pwerle but my eye was on the clock, and mind on the slippery road yet to navigate on the south end of the Sandover….

Dorothy Jones of Utopia with a very nice painting.

However, I did head out to Tomahawk Outstation but no one was there either. Then kept going to Camel Camp. Old Motorbike Paddy was there with 2 large paintings completed. They were just lines and dots and were quite smudgy but exactly what I expected because he’s just about putting his story down on the canvas…. I loved them for what they were – genuinely authentic with no pretense.  

I also gave Motorbike Paddy a new 180cm x 90cm linen with a special request, the same as the ladies at Anoongabah……have some fun. Denisa Hatches, who speaks very good English, translated this request to him in his language – and he smiled. Who knows what the painting will look like???

Elizabeth Mbitjane, the daughter of Motorbike Paddy and Kathleen Ngale, was away in hospital in Alice Springs but was expected home in good health in the next day or two! She’s really keen to paint, and I personally love her work, so I left a very large linen for her to paint when she gets home and is up to it!

I then left and headed home expecting to get there around 8.30pm, but the road had dried out significantly and managed a much better speed than on the way out. Home at 7.35pm.