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Black Water River; Woven MaskArtist:Johnny Bulunbulun

Artist : Yirawala, Billy
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Artist : Yirawala, Billy



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Artist :            Billy Yirawala c 1894-1976


Collected:             by Jim Davidson 1960s
Location:              West Arnhem Land Northern Territory
Size:                      58cm x 22cm

Yirawala is admired and considered one of the most talented Aboriginal artists of the 20th century by many.  Picasso was one of these admirers who saw Yirawala’s work and  said “ When one observes his dynamic use of positive and negative space one understands why this is so” Yirawala born near Maningrida, he inherited the designs and law of the Maraian Ceremony of which he was a Dhua Moiety head.  He was also a medicine man and healer as well as a leading song man and painter including the Lorrkkon Funerary Ceremony.  The Croker Island barks of the 1940s and 50s often concerned scorcery and love magic, and contained images of mimi spirits.  Sandra Le Bun Holmes supported and collected Yirawala’s work and helped present his first solo exhibition in 1971 which travelled to the major states of Australia and oddly New Guinea.  Her private collection of Yirawala’s work now is owned by the National Gallery of Australia.  His worked is still highly sort after and forms an important part of many Institutional collections and a subject of a number of books.    Yirawala received an MBE in 1971

This painting is by Yirawala.  It depicts the white fish which is associated with an important dance.  It is performed in the Maraian or sacred ceremony by ten men.   The bone fishis also part of this dance performance and four men will take part in this.

The giant Luma Luma (ancestral figure ) told the various clans which rarrk design to use in Maraian paintings.

This example is very similar to the example shown in “ Yirawala: Artist and Man “ by Sandra Le Brun Holmes published 1972 page 66.

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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 February 2018 08:48