CLAUDE PANNKA: The Aboriginal Painter and Visual Artist

Central Australian landscape - photo by Deutscher and Hackett
Claude Pannka (1927-1972) – photo by Hermannsburg School

Claude Pannka was a visual artist and Aboriginal painter born in the year 1928. Claude was among the Aboriginal painters of Central Australian Landscape. He hailed from the Arunta Tribe. This man was adjudged one of the best students of Albert Namatjira, who taught him how to paint.

Claude Pannka was also the original watercolour artist whose vibrant and bright colours were easily exclusive. His paintings were exceptional and revealed the work of a professional artist. This artist introduced watercolour to his artwork in the mid-twentieth century, when he designed a framed watercolour on paper.

From 1928 to 1972, Claude was one of the Aboriginal of Hermannsburg School. He was popular for his appreciation of down-to-earth tones and compositions such as a gum tree to a side painting. This particular painting showed a gum tree off to the left side, even as a purple mountain can be seen in the middle.

Claude Pannka’s Interest in Painting

It was during the visit of Battarbee Rex to Hermannsburge in 1934 that Claude Pannka developed an interest in painting. As of 1950, Claude had become a full-time painter, who had turned out to be a very popular artist. He taught his daughter Gloria Pannka how to paint with watercolours at a tender age. Gloria kept painting in the style of watercolour landscapes that epitomised the tradition of Hermannsburg School.

The Ancestral Spirit of Namatjira

Gloria Pannka – photo by IDAIA

As a matter of fact, Claude Pannka’s style of painting followed the familial spirit of Namatjira, where colours shift fast and merge continuously with another colour to form visual tone before the eyes. In the mid-20th century, with the popularity and rise to recognition of Albert Namatjira who happened to be the father of Claude Pannka, watercolour painting and a cool, apparently descriptive approach to landscape turned out to be the normal way of portraying the centre.

Claude Pannka and his daughter Gloria are not only Albert Namatjira’s artistic heirs, but they also belong to his extended family, and the most surprising of them was that Gloria Pannka was his granddaughter.

Gloria Pannka, who started learning the tactics of watercolour painting from Claude, her father when she was just 12 years old, practiced and developed her craft for quite long that most of its slight effects came to her naturally. Her watercolours appear more or less like tests of the eye’s capacity to differentiate the optimum variations in shades of sunlit gold, pale blue, pink, molten, and sepia.

However, it was after five years that Pannka and the new artists from Hermannsburg gained a medium or platform to showcase their work. It was a modest venture devoted to promoting work by artists. Both Claude Pannka and her daughter Gloria Pannka started working on a slightly bigger scale, under the auspices of Ngurratjuta.

Central Australian landscape by Claude Pannka – photo by Artnet

They participated in group shows, and they attracted strong attention, in spite of the soft, modest, and almost disappearance quality of their works. Their works are always commended at art exhibitions and shows.

The Pannkas were reserved concerning their art and its background. A close inspection of the surface of the watercolours of these artists showed that common objects were painted in a code of visual shorthand.

For example, the leaves on trees, far off faults and grooves in the range lines, as well as shadow on the ground are recorded with a smudge or flick of the brush. This showed that a full vocabulary of painted effects was built up to re-establish the deepness of the landscape and to catch and entice the viewer’s eye.

Claude Pannka’s Painting Style

The Grandeur, MacDonnell Ranges – photo by Australian Art Sales Digest

Claude Pannka made use of acid-free watercolour paper, supported with a board, and paints cross-legged, with the paper balanced very well on his lap when painting. Claude will sit down for many hours in this posture, and busy in the exacting reverse engineering that watercolour landscape work necessitates.

Paintings were in quite a lot of washes, which built up variation effects from mixing colour. For instance, a white tree adjacent to a dark range-line will be painted in negative by filling in the mountain to appear like when the lighter-coloured trunk and branches were already there.

With this painting style and practice, Claude Pannka knew where he was going precisely, immediately the composition began. In addition, there was a tone of confidence and belief in the art of Claude Pannka. It was like he was just transliterating country into paint. Quite a lot of works designed by Claude Pannka have been sold at different auctions.

Ghost Gums, Macdonnell Ranges – photo by Australian Art Auction Records

Claude Pannka had strong thoughts regarding the content of a painted version of a particular landscape. There are no clouds, no animals, no water, and no people. He confirmed that he just doesn’t want to be involved in the painting of these things. The reasons for this omission may be traditional, personal, and artistic at once.

They provided Claude’s work at a level of tranquil and austerity, which were not available in the paintings of other artists. As a matter of fact, these qualities certainly differentiate him from Namatjira to some extent, despite the fact that he perceived himself as working in his style.

His Death

Claude Pannka died in the year 1972.