Dr Michael Nelson Jagamara: Aboriginal Artist, Australian Legend

A few weeks ago I had the immense pleasure of meeting Dr Michael Nelson Jagamara in person. He was so kind as to pay us a visit here at The Canvas Art Factory in Brisbane.

Michael Nelson began painting many years ago in Papunya, Central Australia, in the classic dot and circle tradition of desert sand painting. Much of his work centers on the country in the Mt Singleton area and tells of traditional Dreaming Stories.

 

He has been recognized both nationally and internationally, from the late 1980s through numerous public art commissions and awards including the 1984 Telstra National Aboriginal Art Award.

 

During the late 1990s, he reinvented his approach to painting with a more expressionistic style. He continues to make the salient point that although his choice of colours, materials and appearance of works are continually being reformatted, his stories have never changed. Michael Nelson’s significant contribution to Aboriginal Art has been recognized many times: In 2008, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of New South Wales. And since September 2016, he became the most expensive aboriginal artist alive, with a record sale of $690,000 for his painting “Five Stories” at Sotheby’s London.

 

“Michael Jagamara Nelson’s painting Five Stories, of 1984, is one of the iconic images of modern Aboriginal art. It has been published and exhibited widely, possibly more so than any other work by an Indigenous Australian artist. During the 1980s and 1990s, Five Stories featured in several landmark exhibitions in Australia and abroad at a time when Aboriginal artists were breaking through the barriers that had consigned their art to the ethnographic domain, to emerge as part of the discourse that is the world of contemporary art.

 

Five Stories was among three works by Jagamara selected for the 1986 Biennale of Sydney: Origins, originality + beyond. This was the first time Aboriginal artists were represented in the Biennale. It featured on the cover of the seminal exhibition Dreamings: The Art of Aboriginal Australia organized by the South Australian Museum and shown at the Asia Society Galleries in New York in 1988. The high profile of this exhibition introduced a new set of international collectors to Aboriginal art and initiated a debate as to its place in the continuum of contemporary art worldwide. Similarly, the exhibition Crossroads Towards A New Reality mounted at the Museums of Modern Art in Tokyo and Kyoto in 1992 established a place for modern Aboriginal art in Japan. Five Stories was one of the key works in the highly acclaimed exhibition Aratjara: Art of the first Australians, that opened at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Cologne, and toured to the Louisiana Museum in Humlebaek, Denmark, and the Hayward Gallery in London in 1993-94; the exhibition introduced western Europe to contemporary developments in Aboriginal art.

 

In the year 2000, the painting featured in Papunya Tula: Genesis and Genius, a watershed exhibition that traced the evolution of the acrylic painting movement that had originated at the settlement of Papunya in 1971: the exhibition was staged at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney during the Olympic Games. Five Stories was shown again in Europe in Desert Art at the AAMU Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in 2002.” Wally Caruana excerpts from catalog essay Sothebys Aboriginal Art London 21 September 2016

 

As you can see, his works are held in numerous private, corporate and most public collections in Australia, including the National Gallery of Australia and the Nationally Museum of Australia.

 

This is a video of Dr Michael Nelson Jagamara visiting us at The Canvas Art Factory and working in the Art Gallery Fireworks.

 

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