MARGARET LOY PULA
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.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF NEW YORK?
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?
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