Minnie Pwerle circa 1915 – 2006
Minnie Pwerle was one of those aboriginal artists who started painting late in life. She came from Utopia, Northern Territory, and was part of a family widely known for their artistic prowess. Her daughter Barbara Weir is well known as an artist both nationally and internationally, and Barbara’s son (Minnie’s grandson) Fred Torres had an art dealership trading Pwerle art. Her sister-in-law was Emily Kame Kngwarreye, another famous artist.
When visiting her daughter in Adelaide in 1999 she expressed a desire to paint at Fred’s gallery, so when given some canvases she immediately began producing vibrant paintings using bold colour and confident line. This immediately caught the eye of collectors and each piece she painted was quickly acquired by admiring art enthusiasts. Her popularity quickly spread to the international market.
Minnie had two series of artworks called ‘Bush Melon’ and ‘Bush Melon Seed’. These were a tribute to her country Atnwengerrp. ‘They tell the story of this lovely sweet food that comes from a very small bush only found in Atnwengerrp… She draws on an ancient cultural tradition that has used visual gestures and pigments in body painting, rock art, and sand painting to express connection to country for thousands of years. Minnie’s canvases sing with indigenous wisdom and contemporary verve.’1
Minnie only painted for a short while, but her efforts were prolific. In 2000, only shortly after she started painting, she had her first solo exhibition in Flinders Lane Gallery in Melbourne. Just a couple of years later, her works were fetching tens of thousands of dollars, such as ‘Awelye Atnwengerrp’ for $44,000. As early as 2004, Australian Art Collector magazine named her as one of Australia’s 50 most collectible artists in that year. ‘Sprightly and outgoing, even in her eighties she could outrun younger women chasing goannas for bushfood, and she continued to create artworks until two days before her death on 18 March 2006.’2