Young has also done much to foster the work of young artists; intergenerational capacity-building is a major aspect of Tjala Arts. She paints alone but also in the collaborative style for which the APY Lands artists are now famous.

What’s so amazing and complex about Young’s work, especially this (2019) one, is you can read them in multiple ways. The complex composition of line and colour traces the landmarks of the artist’s land and country around and across the APY Lands. It also depicts the tunnels and formations of the honey ants under the mulga trees. The title, which translates as Honey Ant Story, refers to an important creation story for Anangu and other First Peoples in central Australia.

Ray Ken in front of works by Barbara Mbitjana Moore, Tjungkara Ken and Yaritji Young at Tjala Arts in Amata, South Australia.

Ray Ken in front of works by Barbara Mbitjana Moore, Tjungkara Ken and Yaritji Young at Tjala Arts in Amata, South Australia.Credit:John Montesi

The vibrant and almost but not quite discordant use of colour reflects literally the areas surrounding Amata, which is richly, beautifully vegetated and then illuminated by this expansive, absorbing blue sky. At the same time it manifests the complexities of Tjukurpa, which is more than a creation story; it’s a complex metaphysical, ethical and legal system that is the foundation of all aspects of Anangu life.

To me looking at these works is like experiencing an event of significant power; you’ve got this wild colour tearing across the canvas in multiple trajectories, some go directly to the bottom, some contour wildly across it, some traverse this amazing lattice of complex line work and explode forcefully down the bottom into this densely layered mass of concentric circles that bounce off in different directions over the edge of the canvas as if to suggest this painting is just one episode in a much broader series of events that extend out into and across space and time.

When you’re looking at [works like] these it’s more like you’re witnessing an important but (to me) largely unknowable event, rather than reading a self-contained story or narrative.

Ryan Johnston, director, Buxton Contemporary, University of Melbourne

Ryan Johnston, director, Buxton Contemporary, University of MelbourneCredit:Zan Wimberley

The other interesting thing about this work − and one of the reasons it was an obvious choice for me – is the scale. These paintings are really big, they’re at human scale, 192 centimetres high, and provide an almost consuming viewing experience. So looking at this in the catalogue for a recent show at Alcaston Gallery is a reminder that painting isn’t purely a visual experience, it’s not something we can experience fully digitally, it’s a bodily experience as well. And an experience that, importantly, provides a spatial encounter with different world views and systems of being that are otherwise inaccessible, even if we can’t necessarily comprehend them. This is why I’m very much looking forward to being able to experience works like this in person again.

This painting is certainly representative of Young’s work since I first met her in early 2017, but like most artists her style has shifted over her career. In recent years there’s almost a concentration of energy and ambition and expansiveness, a heightened density and intensity in her work. She is really at the height of her artistic powers at the moment; her work is also utterly unlike anything you’ll see anywhere, it’s an incredibly unique practice.

The work can be viewed at Alcaston Gallery in Melbourne.



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