Kathleen Kngale Camel Camp, Utopia, NT, Australia, b. Circa 1934
Although Kathleen Kngale has been painting for over two decades , it is only in recent years that she has been acclaimed as one of the most significant and exciting artists in contemporary Utopia painting creating memorable and visually dazzling paintings. Kathleen Kngale is a seventy year old Anmatyerre woman from the Arlperre Country and belongs to a family of artists, one which includes an older sister Polly Kngale and a younger sister Angeline Kngale. All three sisters paint in individual and distinctive styles and have attracted widespread recognition.
Kathleen Kngale's main dreaming is that of the Bush Plum or Wild Plum (Arnwekety), a prized food source for Aboriginal women in Arlperre in Central Australia and one which ripens between Christmas and May in this country. One way of interpreting her paintings is to view them as pictorial explorations of the impact of the changing seasons on the Bush Plum plant capturing the changing colours of these small berries as they ripen from yellow and orange to pink and purple. In her paintings she also traces the journeys of the women in search of the Bush Plum as well as pays homage to the spiritual forces of the ancestors who created the land forms, everything that exists around them and codified the patterns of behaviour. Her paintings, usually exhibited untitled, in their imagery tend to touch on all of these aspects of the Bush Plum plant, the changing colours of the seasons, the sacred topography and the process of travel through this country.
Kathleen Kngale was involved with the Utopia batik movement in the 1980s and her method of work as a painter reflects something of this batik heritage, where each painted stroke is applied as if with a canting tool in the batik process and results in a mark, which then is built up layer upon layer. In her manner of paint application, there is both a great subtlety and complete confidence of touch. She frequently works with dotted underpainting like a spreading veil of colour favouring yellow ochres, purples, reds and lilac, on top of which there is a frenetic layering and patterning of dots with a pastel-like palette favouring pinks, pale greens, light blues, creams and lavender as the predominant colours. These optically blend and fuse with the underlying layer creating a quality of translucency and inner luminosity. Sometimes a further layer of individual dots is then applied in individual parts of the canvas giving them the appearance of luminous highlights or Bush Plums floating above the surface.
Kathleen Kngale's canvases are distinguished from those of many of her contemporaries through the exceptional sense of pictorial depth created by these veils of colour and their light saturated surfaces. Although the background layer of dots frequently appears largely painted out, almost inevitably faint halo-like echoes remain of the earlier colour layer. This creates the impression of an aerial landscape possessing a quality of spacious vastness, yet at the same time, there is a very subtle picking out precious details, such as concentrations of Bush Plum plants, ancestral tracks, claypans and soakages. It is a landscape which appears as simultaneously endless and monotonous in its lateral spread, yet full of meticulously defined detail and painterly incidents to which we are given pictorial access from an aerial perspective. The careful control of the size of the dots and their concentration coupled with the richness of the colour palette creates dramatic passages of paint and evokes the impression of sweeping dynamic movement which is compositionally contrasted with areas of great stillness and tranquillity. Her underpainting in warm glowing tones suggests a relentless radiating heat, but the surface pinks, purples and mauves, with their sweeping drifts of colour, hint at the fecundity of the vegetation and suggests deep gullies, pools of water and areas of shade which glow with colour and light.