'Leaves on the Ground' by Gloria Petyarre is a very special painting to me. I met Gloria on one of my early trips to the Utopia community and as I watched her paint this incredible work I instantly fell in love with it. This work has been on my walls wherever I've called home, it's rather large, 240 x 75 cm, but room is always made!
Today, Gloria is renowned for her ‘bush medicine leaf’ paintings and is widely considered to be one of the most significant Aboriginal artists living and working. She first came to attention winning the ‘Wynne Prize for Landscape’ at the NSW gallery in 1999, the first Indigenous Australian to win a major art prize at the gallery. Her work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia and she is considered one of the most collectable indigenous artists.
Gloria was born in 1938, moving into the Utopia community in 1977. Originally she started batik painting and was one of the founding members of the Utopia Women's Batik Group. In 1988 the woman began painting their designs on canvas rather than fabric and the show that resulted toured notable galleries in Australia and drew international attention. This success spawned the Utopian art movement and many of Australia’s foremost Indigenous artists hail from this area.
Utopia is a region of around 5,000 sq km north-east of Alice Springs and is home to around 2,000 aboriginal people. The region largely lies on aboriginal owned land called Urapuntja, it is made up of several larger communities and some very small ones! Art is by far the largest source of employment in an area which lacks employment opportunities and skills. There are well over 250 professional artists in the region, most of them have never attended an art class!
Initial work from the region was traditional but the styles quickly developed and became bolder and more diverse. This is what the art of Utopia is renowned for to this day, and Utopia's women are now leaders in female aboriginal art.