Drawing and sketching portraits from a young age, he learned coloured pencil techniques from his grandfather Larry Patterson. Even today, the artist receives ongoing guidance from his extended family, who represent a who’s who of some of the best painting to come from Australia’s north west over recent decades.
“Yunkurra (Billy Atkins), my nyamu (grandfather), he’s guiding me about what I can paint and share. My closest family is the Taylor mob: Uncle Muuki, Wokka, and Ngalangka. They help me too.” Cyril is the grandson of deceased senior Martu artist Pinyirr, and shares a particularly close affinity with his grandmother, Bugai Whyoulter, with whom he has collaborated prolifically in recent years.
In addition to his solo practice, Cyril has proven a driving force behind a number of significant cultural projects that have helped invigorate Martu painting in recent years. This includes the recent Pujiman collaboration between Martumili and Spinifex Hill Artists in South Hedland, which facilitated the exchange of knowledge between leading Pilbara Art Centres’ emerging artists and their Pujiman (desert-born) elders. The collaboration consisted of a bush camp that allowed the two generations to paint together on Country. The spectacular results are currently touring Western Australia, and Cyril is now helping develop another major multi-year project in collaboration with the Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa Martu Cultural Knowledge Program.
Cyril was also the instigator of a similar intergenerational camp at the significant Martu site of Wantili, a soak and claypan near Well 25 on the Canning Stock Route. “It’s important, that place,” he explains, “out a long way from Newman. We drove out to Pungurr one night and camped out, and then going to Wantili with the elderly people. Old ladies. Jakayu (Biljabu) and Kumpaya (Girgaba), them two aunties told me a story about dreamtime and how important Wantili was. People from all over the place could come there for the initiation ceremony.”
The site proved the catalyst for a major series of collaborative works with his grandmother. “Bugai always tells about Wantili because she grew up around Wantili. She saw whitefellas there for the first time, Canning mob when they were travelling up and down the stock route with the bullock. She was a young girl… They were travelling making the road, Canning and his drovers. They were running away from those whitefellas, watching them from a long distance.”
The resulting solo and collaborative works showed at Paul Johnstone Gallery last August, and the pair additionally had a work in the 2018 NATSIAA. Paul Johnstone notes the distinctive energy of the collaborative works produced by the pair on Country; a sense of immediacy he compares to the en plein air tradition. While noting the project’s commercial success, Paul also points out its peculiarities: collaboration between two Aboriginal artists of such different age, artistic experience, and opposite gender is not common, and reflects how such cultural delineations are less strict for Martu than in different Aboriginal nationalities. He also notes the integral support of Martumili Artists for such innovative and potentially fraught projects.
After a watershed year in 2018, Cyril now intends to “…learn more. I’m slowly learning about myself, who I am as an Aboriginal Indigenous man and an artist. Not many men that are artists at Martumili,” he notes – although he will also be spearheading a men’s camp later this year to help inspire other young Martu men to paint.
Cyril’s recent works are available directly from Martumili Artists in Newman, WA, and Paul Johnstone Gallery, Darwin, NT.