Artist Derrick Butt – photo taken by Angus Butt
You’d be forgiven for thinking Martumili Artists had taken over the Paul Johnstone Gallery in Darwin, with our artists represented in two back-to-back, sell-out solo shows held between July and September of this year. For Derrick Butt, this show marked an incredibly exciting milestone- his first solo exhibition. Meanwhile, desert master Bugai Whyoulter effortlessly delivered yet another spectacular solo show.
Over the past few months, Martumili Artists have brought the Western Desert to the Paul Johnstone Gallery in Darwin, featuring consecutive sell-out solo shows by Derrick Butt and Bugai Whyoulter. This exhibition programming showcased a beautiful continuity in talent and cultural heritage, spanning from the newest to the most senior generations of Martu Artists.
From July 15th through to August 5th, the works of emerging powerhouse Derrick Butt adorned the walls of the Paul Johnstone Gallery with his exhibition titled ‘Seasons in Kulyakartu’. Through his intricate and richly layered depictions of his ancestral Country, Butt did what he does best- sharing his stories and his Country through his paintings, and in this way connecting to his audience. At the same time he fulfilled a lifelong dream of having his own exhibition.
Butt’s paintings in ‘Seasons in Kulyakartu‘, and indeed all of his work, are characterised by constellations of colour that almost seem to vibrate with energy. These paintings manage to convey not only the topographic geological forms, water bodies, and flora of the region to the far north of the Martu homelands, but also the very life essence that lies beneath the land. Enriching the exhibition by providing additional context in terms of family and place, several paintings by Derrick’s jamu (grandfather), Muuki Taylor (OAM) were exhibited alongside Butt’s work. Like Derrick, Muuki paints his ancestral ngurra (home Country, camp), Kulyakartu, depicting its geographical formations and related jukurrpa (dreaming) narratives throughout its seasonal changes.
Martumili Artists Corban Clause Williams and Sylvia Wilson visiting Bugai Whyoulter’s exhibition at Paul Johnstone Gallery.
Following ‘Seasons in Kulyakartu’, between 10th August and September 1st, ‘Ngayu Bugai – I AM BUGAI’, an exhibition by Bugai Whyoulter; Kartujarra woman, internationally renowned artist, and senior custodian of the lands surrounding Kunawarritji (Canning Stock Route Well 33), was on display. This exhibition focused on works painted by Bugai after her return from a recent trip to Wantili (Warntili, Canning Stock Route Well 25), a region dominated by claypans and surrounding tuwa (sandhills) that holds immense cultural importance, as it was here ‘where the creation started’ (Cyril Whyoulter, Bugai’s grandson). For Bugai, Wantili is even more significant as this site, lying within the area travelled nomadically with her family, was the place that Bugai saw ‘whitefellas’ for the first time as they drove cattle along the Canning Stock Route.
In all of the works featured in the exhibition, ranging in hues from delicate pastels to rich, inky shades, shimmering canvases convey complex relationships of the light, heat, and spatiality of Bugai’s Country. As Paul Johnstone states, “Her work is adored the world over, and little wonder. Bugai’s paintings are luminous.” It’s a special treat to walk into a gallery full of Bugai’s mesmerising works, but if you didn’t get a chance to see the exhibition in person, do yourself a favour and take a moment to check out the catalogue. You might just walk away feeling like you’ve encountered a breathtaking claypan in the middle of the desert.
Words by Ruth Leigh.