Pwerle approaches the canvas with much more than the usual degree of confidence. Her lines are bold and sure, echoing those of her grandmother Minnie Pwerle, but with the assurance of a much more practised artist than her years or experience would suggest. The brushwork in her body designs, Awelye, has all the characteristics of this family dreaming, but Charmaine lends her own distinct creative flair, pattern and movement to the canvas.
Charmaine is definitely a family person: She lives in Mt Isa with her four daughters, son and large extended family. Her education has been varied to say the least, straddling the worlds of the remote outpost of Utopia (280 kms north east of Alice Springs) until she was seven years of age, and immediately following this, the urban environment of Adelaide, where she was sent to ‘improve her education’.
At the age of 10 she returned to Utopia School for a further year, before attending St. Phillips College in Alice Springs. Alice Springs high school was next on the agenda, and after this she returned to Utopia for a few years before moving back to Adelaide again to study.
In 1992 Charmaine returned to Utopia and worked for Urapuntja Council as a junior administration assistant, while living with her mother Barbara Weir and grandparents Minnie Pwerle and Motorcar Jim at Soakge Bore – an outstation on what used to be Utopia Station. During the years she spent at Utopia, Charmaine’s education extended to embrace her people’s culture, performing in ceremonies, and learning the sacred stories passed on to her by her grandmothers.
Charmaine’s early works were impressively executed and rich with culture and expression. In the years that have followed she has developed her obvious talent, and appears to be following in her mother’s footsteps as one of the most sought after artists living and working today. Her exhibition history both nationally and internationally is growing exponentially, and her work is starting to be acquired by major institutions such as the NGV.
My Grandmother’s Country:
Minnie Pwerle, came from a region called Atnwengerrp at Utopia and it is this country that Charmaine depicts in her paintings.
Charmaine’s main inspirations are the Atnwengerrp area and Awelye (women’s ceremonies and body paint).
The women paint each other’s breasts and upper bodies with ochre markings, before dancing in a ceremony. The body designs are important and, painted on chest and shoulders, they relate to each particular woman’s dreaming. The ochre pigment is ground into powder form and mixed with charcoal and ash before being applied with a flat padded stick or with fingers in raw linear and curving patterns. The circles in these designs represent the sites and movement where the ceremonies take place.
The lines in the painting depict the tracks that her people made as they trekked across the country in search of food and dry river beds. The large semi circular shapes represent the sandhills and valleys. The dark colour represents the path of a fire that has swept across the land.
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Bio via. Kate Owen