John Mawurndjul is one of Australia’s leading Aboriginal artists, if not the greatest of the living. This is a comprehensive look at the many facets and avenues of Mawurndjul’s works, but following up on daily, practical, and theoretical issues influencing Australian indigenous art.
Mawurndjul is an innovator who has developed Kuwinjku bark painting from an iconic art form into a nonfigurative style with compelling geometry, building on the work of older leading Kuwinjku artists. He has, over the years, forged a new way of painting out of the old, transforming the dot infill X-ray method derived from figurative rock art and body painting into one employing masses of rarrk (cross hatching), unrelieved by figurative motifs. His complex and understated geometry, which is made up of infinitesimal, moire-like crosshatched variations–occasioning multiple shifts and optical gyrations within the paint layer–is no longer contained within the figurative envelope. Mawurndjul invented a geometry that takes up the entire surface of the painting and today must be seen as the central focus of his work. As Judith Ryan, curator for indigenous art at the National Gallery of Victoria explains, the rarrk itself is indicative of ancestral potency and points to hidden internalized layers of past and present ceremonial practice.