Artist Profile: Julie Yatjitja

MUCH LIKE A MUSICAL SCORE, JULIE YATJITJA’S POWERFUL PAINTINGS EBB AND FLOW IN THE RHYTHM OF COLOUR. MICHEAL DO WRITES.

By the Iwantja Creek in Indulkana, a large native gum grows from the creek bed. Highly sacred to the Indulkana community, who live in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia, the gum marks the resting place and dreaming site of the Tjurki (owl). This is the backdrop where artist Julie Yatjitja spends each day, painting, gathering and socialising at the nearby Art Centre Iwantja Arts, eponymously named after the creek.

Julie has done this for the past 10 years, where she pursues art making as a way of life. “I’ve been painting here for a long time. The Art Centre at Indulkana is a fun and happy place with music playing and lots of laughter.” But more than this, the Iwantja Creek – which is so defining to the Indulkana community – is also the very place where Julie was born, where she and her family were raised and where she lives. It is this intimate knowledge of her Country that Julie uses as a basis for her distinctive paintings.

In formal terms, Julie is known for her painted surfaces webbed with the fine lines and hypnotic stripes that are characteristic of Western Desert painting. She dabbles paint in a structured and methodical way, creating a composition that ebbs and flows like a musical score. Within her canvases are areas of white negative space that provide breaks within her rhythms of colour – spaces that revive us like a rest in music. This is a defining trait of Julie’s output: a sense of musical, hypnotic splendour that carries a significance we can only intuit but never fully comprehend.

It is this mystery and conceptual opacity that forms part of the work’s energising and humbling experience. While her paintings often depict watering holes, animals and the Seven Sisters Tjukurpa (the laws, traditions and knowledge of Country that encompass the world view of the Anagu people to which Julie belongs), these subjects only form part of her painted grand narrative. Julie draws on this material, while also distilling her familial archive and her sense of duty and obligation to Country, presenting a painted world that is deeply idiosyncratic and personal.

She emphasises that her references to, and appreciation of, the past are borne from a shared history: “The old people who share their stories in the Art Centre is how I learnt to paint my story.” These stories, as Julie puts it, are grounded in Western Desert life ways, narratives and “all the Country that I remember and the stories my family told me.”

In this way, Julie’s paintings offer powerful insight to her home in Indulkana: cutting through class, nation, gender and lived experience. We are invited to journey through and experience her richly coloured and intensely evocative Country – one pigment at a time. And within this invitation, is the gentle reminder that the significance of physical place can only be fully comprehended when first experienced within the mind.

Julie was the feature artist for the APY Art Centre Collective Art Centre Iwantja Arts at the recent Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF), which takes place every year in early August. The next DAAF runs from 5–9 August, 2020.

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