WHEN First Nations artist Selina Teece Pwerl travelled from Central Australia to Perth in 2010, it was her first time on a plane and she had never seen the ocean before.
Back then she was a fledgling artist doing a joint exhibition in South Fremantle with her mum Lulu Teece.
Now, some 13 years later, she’s an established artist in her own right and is back in South Freo, showing her latest works as part of the Desert Stars exhibition.
Originally from Antarrengeny, a remote community north of the Utopia region in central Australia, there’s a tactile quality to Pwerl’s landscape paintings, which often feature spinifex, gum blossom flowers, bush tomato and kurrajong seeds.
She tends to paint the area around Harts Range, Ampilatjawa and Utopia, a sprawling region spanning thousands of kilometres to the northeast of Alice Springs.
One of her most striking works is a glorious cacophony of trees and wildflowers with vibrant colours and textures, drawing on stories of her father’s country Antarrengeny.
“The inspiration for my painting titled My Father’s Country comes from growing up in a traditional way on country,” she says.
“My memories are on being with the men and women and collecting bush foods, and also the colour of the desert after the rain, and the many wildflowers.
“When I was at school I enjoyed doing watercolour paintings and was inspired by the paintings of Albert Namatjira.”
Another striking piece Kurrajong, which has a lovely red hue, was partly inspired by Pwerl’s grandmother.
“Kurrajong is the story from my father’s country – but it is a women’s story and my grandmother used to show us how to get the water from the roots of the tree and squeeze it out into a coolamon (bowl) to drink,” Pwerl says.
“She would show us how to find the right roots by looking for where the ground is swollen.”
Pwerl says she learned a lot about art form her mum Lulu, a respected painter who is the sister of the late Margaret Turner Petyarre, another renowned artist.
Lulu began painting, like many of the women in Utopia, during the 1980s when several community projects were run in the region.
The first of these, The Utopia Women’s Batik group, taught the women of Utopia how to create silk batiks using their traditional Dreamings or bush scenes as decorations.
“When I was young, about seven years old, my mother Lulu was working on the batik project in Utopia and I would sit with her and make little paintings,” Pwerl says.
“The Utopia ladies influenced me a lot; I was surrounded by my Auntie’s painting.”
Pwerl is just one of a dozen artists from Utopia exhibiting in Desert Stars, although most hail from the picturesque Harts Range region in the eastern central desert.
The line-up includes Caroline Petrick Kngwarreye, Belinda and Janet Golder, Charmaine Pwerle, Colleen Wallace Nungarrayi and Ada Beasley Pula.
The artists draw on the natural beauty of their homeland and often use skills passed down the generations.
The exhibition is presented by Artitja Fine Art Gallery in South Freo, which since 2004 has been showcasing art from remote community art centres including the Tiwi Islands and Arnhem land.
The free Desert Stars exhibition is open to the public from October 27-November 19 at the Terrace Greenhouse Gallery, 223 South Terrace in South Fremantle. There will be a meet and greet with Selina Teece Pwerl on opening night 6pm-8pm.
For more info see artitja.com.au.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK