Travelling collectors auction Aboriginal art gems

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 12th February, 2014

It is rare these days to find collectors of Aboriginal art who actually travel to the communities to meet the artists and purchase the works first hand.

However, Michael and Janet Strachan did exactly that when about 20 years ago they first visited the Kimberley region of Western Australia and fell in love with the landscape and its art.

Their first contact was with the Warmun community – the home of what were to become iconic Aboriginal artists like Rover Thomas, Jack Britten and Queenie McKenzie - and famous for its ochre paintings.

“At the time, they were holding a corroboree and ceremonial business meeting and we met a lot of the older people,” explained Janet Strachan.

“Rover was a real character and Queenie (a mad keen Aussie Rules fan) loved to sit wearing her West Coast beanie.”

Over the years, the Strachans also visited Central Desert and Arnhem Land Aboriginal communities where they obtained even more works.

“With the help of Helen Read, who piloted a small plane, we visited places like Melville Island, Maningrida, Roper River, Ngukurr and Utopia (Emily Kngwarreye’s home) – as well as Darwin and Alice Springs,” Janet said.

“By doing so, we achieved a real sense of how different styles of painting belonged to different landscapes.”

Because the Strachans are now downsizing to a unit, they have asked Philips Auctions to dispose of much of their beloved collection at its first auction for the year on Sunday February 16.

It is undoubtedly a high quality collection – obtained before the commercial “boom” in Aboriginal art in the early 2000s.

Many of the important artists are represented including Emily Kngwarreye, Turkey Tolson and Johnny Warangkula.

A good selection of the Kimberley’s ochre works includes an impressive diptych by Jack Britten, as well as works by Churchill Cann, Rusty Peters and George Wallaby.

One of the highlights of the sale is a two-metre high sculpture by senior artist Pedro Wonaeamirri.

The ironwood pukamani pole was specially commissioned by the Strachans after they met the artist and travelled around the Tiwi Islands. A related work sits in the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.

Buyers are bound to be interested in quality Balgo examples by Eubena and Helicopter and Lucy Yukenbarri.

Another major highlight of the collection is Emily Kngwarreye’s 1998 untitled acrylic on canvas from Outback Original Art in Melbourne.

Feature works include Helicopter Tjungurrayi’s Kunamanarr Soak 1999 acrylic on canvas from the Warlayirti Artists in Balgo and Janyka Ivy Nixon’s 1999 untitled acrylic on paper from Mangkaja Arts at Fitzroy Crossing.

There also is Lorna Fencer’s Boomerang 1999 from Katherine Art Gallery, Makinti Napananka’s 2002 untitled acrylic on linen and Lindsay Bird Mpetyane’s 1996 Awelye acrylic.

The auction also contains a comprehensive range of Chinese ceramics, Royal Worcester, clocks, silver and furniture.

The jewelley sale will be held from 6pm on Monday February 18.

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