Roy Burnyila was born in the Northern Territory of Australia. An intermittent artist, he paints the traditional subject matter of his group in a distinctive and individual style.
His work was included in several early and important exhibitions of Aboriginal art including the ‘Mulgurrum Outstation’ exhibition in Melbourne in 1983 and the show ‘Objects and Representations from Ramingining’ at the Power Institute of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 1984.
As a dancer he has travelled with Aboriginal dance groups through south eastern Australia. In 1985 he lived with the Aboriginal community in Campbelltown, NSW as artist in residence.
Roy was also one of the artists to contribute several burial poles, to the ‘Aboriginal Memorial’ an installation made from 200 painted hollow logs, symbolising 200 years of white occupation of Australia, which was part of the 1988 Biennale of Sydney. This installation has since been exhibited overseas including the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and is on permanent display in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Roy, together with fellow artists David Malangi (deceased) and George Milpurrurru (deceased), sang to consecrate the placing of the poles in the National Gallery.
Roy’s style is distinctive in his use of a light yellow and white palette, offset by the black he uses on the cross-hatching, or rarrk, the technique typical to Arnhem Land art. He uses a single-colour line cross-hatching instead of the more familiar grouping of lines by colour. The number of lines in a particular colour together with the angling of the lines to form the crosshatching design is like the signature of each artist.
Roy’s people, the Ganalbingu,are associated with the Arafura Swamp and its creatures including geese, crocodiles, water lilies, snakes and fish. Roy’s swirling cross-hatching beautifully captures this environment. In 1997 Roy participated in a series of workshops held in Ramingining, by printmaker Theo Tremblay, during which they produced an important series of prints, ‘The Ramingining Print Suite’ based on the Wagilag Sisters creation story, one of the most important creation stories in this regon. This workshop also represents a unique collaboration by celebrated artists.
Subject & Themes
Arafura Swamp and related plants and animals, geese, crocodiles, waterlilies, snakes and fish.
Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide.
Museum of Victoria, Melbourne.
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
Sydney University, Sydney.
The Holmes a Court Collection, Perth.
1990 Ramingining Art, Birukmarri Gallery, Fremantle.
1994 Canvassing, 24 Hour Art, Darwin, NT.
1995 The Twelfth National Aboriginal Art Award, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin.
1998 15th NATSI Art Award, Museum & Art Galleries of NT, Darwin.
1997 Ramingining Print Suite.
2000 Yolngu Science, MCA, Sydney.
1992, ‘Aboriginal Art’, National Gallery News, 10th Birthday edition, September / October 1992, p. 5-7.
The Native Born: Objects and Representations from Ramingining Arnhem Land ed. by Bernice Murphy MCA in association with Bula Bula Arts, Ramininging 2000