Mar­garet Loy Pula paints ex­pe­ri­ences. Her some­times aus­tere and at other times vi­brantly colour­ful paint­ings record the rhythms of her An­maty­erre cul­ture through fine dots. The dots be­gin in the cen­tre of her paint­ings, and move in a web­like spread, cre­at­ing their own geo­met­ric shapes, spa­ces and sizes as bear wit­ness to Pula’s sto­ries. Ear­lier this year she was awarded the Arthur Guy Me­mo­rial Prize and in Septem­ber she was the win­ner of the Tat­ter­sall’s Art Prize in Bris­bane. Last month in her first ex­hi­bi­tion at Marc Straus Gallery, New York, she was shown with the Vi­en­nese artist Her­mann Nitsch. And this is where ARTIST PRO­FILE be­gins the con­ver­sa­tion.


It is a big city. It was a big city in the day time. My first time in New York. I was happy to go to New York be­cause of my paint­ings.

What did you show at Marc Straus Gallery?

Old paint­ings and new paint­ings, mix. I mean they were dif­fer­ent shape ones. I counted 10. He (Mike Mitchell) told me there were 14, four in stock room.

What did you dis­cuss with Her­mann Nitsch?

I talk on my paint­ings. I told him my story of the bush pota­toes and friendly talk­ing.

You vis­ited The MET (The Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art)?

I went to the MET to see Abie, my daugh­ter’s paint­ing and my mother’s paint­ing. When I looked at that, I was happy for Abie’s paint­ing. My mother’s paint­ing I was sad, be­cause my mother was not well. I cried too be­cause I know the dream­ing was my mother’s dream­ing. Moun­tain Devil Lizard. That’s Angk­ertha. That’s mum’s cul­ture. That was lovely.

What else did you do in New York?

I had a big sand­wich at Katz’s Deli. I had to share that sand­wich. My son told me, when you go to NY you go see the big sand­wich.

How come you changed the shape of your paint­ings?

I changed be­cause all these ones (square paint­ing) look the same. This is why I changed to this one (rect­an­gu­lar paint­ing). It is the bush potato – anatye story. It’s still the same story. I am not chang­ing.

Did you use sticks be­fore?

No. When I was lit­tle, my mother used to draw with a stick. Not me, the stick too hard. I tried it with my mother, “can I try”, “dot-dot”, but noth­ing. Now I make lit­tle tiny dots with this bot­tle (gutta ap­pli­ca­tor). Old Aunty Nancy told me about the bot­tle. It’s not spilling with too much paint.

Do you uses many gauge sizes for each paint­ing?

Nah, just one, al­ways one (nee­dle). Num­ber six. Eight and seven are too big.

Have you al­ways ap­plied paint on the can­vas flat and on the ground?

Yes, I put them ly­ing down like that. When I do about some­thing small I must be sit down the table. I can’t sit, at table. Hard work for me this long one (rect­an­gu­lar paint­ing). I don’t paint stand­ing, it’s too big for me.

How many colours do you usu­ally use for the bush potato paint­ings?

Some­times I change colours. I change the black one with the red one. This one, the white one, I can use white with red one. I can use three colours for bush potato paint­ings.

What about with the sweet potato paint­ings?

More than three. Too many colours, that’s hard work for me.

Have you ever mixed the colours?

Yeah I mix the colours, I think about my colours and go this way. I change my colours, in this (gutta ap­pli­ca­tor).

Do all the lines on your paint­ings have the same mean­ing?

All dif­fer­ent. This one with all the white dots is not anatye (sweet potato) it is bush potato. See these dots com­ing from the big white lines, they are the small string, like com­ing up here are from the bush potato. The peo­ple dig a hole here.

You leave gaps be­tween each dab?

This small white one (point­ing fin­ger to the smaller and fainter white line gaps) that’s where all the peo­ple dig hole. When (bush potato) make a string it go this way and dig them out of there, all the way. That’s my cul­ture. Un­jun­gola, my fa­ther’s place too. My brother’s named af­ter Un­jun­gola.

Some­times you join the dots up?

That’s when anatye grow­ing up here and I’m paint­ing fast.

Does ev­ery shape in your paint­ing tell a story?

Yes, the way the plant go­ing. That one is the main one (point­ing to the cen­tre large dot in the mid­dle of the paint­ing). When the bush potato grow, they grow this way with the plant. In dry times, this one (cen­tre large dot) dy­ing in sand. And when big rain comes, it will grow.

Does your dab­bing of the gutta ap­pli­ca­tor re­late to your dig­ging for anatye?

Yes, I use an old crow bar, when jab­bing, take out anatye. When I go dig­ging with crow bar, I’m dig­ging with this one (the gutta ap­pli­ca­tor).

What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween the big dots and the lit­tle dots?

Anatye grow up here (point­ing to the big white dots) that’s where I dig. The lit­tle ones (white dots) are the strings. These are plants that are com­ing this way. All these dots go­ing the other way, they’re not go­ing any­where. That’s why I’m show­ing you that one, when I take out that anatye it grows like long string.

Does any­one ever help you make your paint­ings?

No­body help­ing me.

Did your grand­mother teach you how to go hunt­ing for anatye?

Yes. You have a look around, see a plant and you take out. That’s what my grandma told me. When rain time the plant is good. Not dry time. Dry time sit­ting down with dry one sit­ting here (point­ing to the large cen­tre dot in the mid­dle of the paint­ing). Big rain time it’ll grow any­where.

Were there many white­fel­las around when you were grow­ing up?

No. Noth­ing. Just the bush potato, my peo­ple, kan­ga­roos, goan­nas and por­cu­pine (echid­nas).

When you paint, is that al­ways just about your peo­ple and coun­try?

Yes. Al­ways about my cul­ture.

Who did you watch to learn paint­ing?

My mother.

Do you al­ways want your paint­ing to be per­fect?

Yes. If I make mis­take, I’ll get a tis­sue and clean them up a lit­tle bit. No mis­takes with my eye­sight. I have good eyes to see a mis­take. No mis­takes.

When you paint, how long do you paint for?

Maybe I stay about two hours. When I’m pretty tired, I’ll walk around, stretch my leg and walk around and come back and start again. And when I see all that kids muck around, play­ing around, I’m not do­ing any­thing. I sit.

Do you look af­ter the kids all the time?

Yes. All my grand­chil­dren. There are other (grand­chil­dren) stay­ing in other places. When they come, they talk­ing, they make too much noise when I’m paint­ing. I have to walk around.

What would you say to young peo­ple who want to be painters?

Young peo­ple they may fol­low the same as me too. Must be, when there is no work, they must try too. I’ll be sit­ting around old, chil­dren look af­ter me too, the same as my mother did for her mother.

How do you feel about paint­ing?

I feel good about my­self when I sit down in sand to paint. I can do it, what­ever time, day time or night time. I don’t know why I feel good. I’ve got no money to feed all those kids, I’ve got to work. That’s why I’m paint­ing too. Make money with can­vas. That’s why I’m happy. Kon Gou­ri­o­tis would like to ac­knowl­edge the gen­er­ous as­sis­tance of Mike Mitchell in the record­ing of Mar­garet Loy Pula in Bris­bane for this in­ter­view.


03 Mar­garet Loy Pula at Katz’s Del­i­catessen, New York, 2017 04 Mar­garet Loy Pula’s solo ex­hi­bi­tion, 2017, Marc Straus Gallery, New York

05 Anatye (Bush Potato), 2013, acrylic on li­nen, 90 x 90cm 06 Mar­garet Loy Pula in New York, 2017 07 Mar­garet Loy Pula at The Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art, New York, looking at

‘Moun­tain Devil Lizard Dream­ing-Sand-Hill-Coun­try’, 2000, acrylic on can­vas, 182 x 182cm, by her mother, Kath­leen Pet­yarre 08 Mar­garet Loy Pula in New York with Her­mann Nitsch, 2017

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