MINNIE PWERLE: An Australian Art Pearl

Minnie Pwerle, Awelye Atnwengerrp - photo by Artlandish Aboriginal Art Gallery

Minnie Pwerle aka Minnie Motorcar Apwerl or Minnie Purla was born between 1910 and 1922. She was an Aboriginal artist from Australia but hailed from Utopia in the Northern Territory. In the year 2000, Minnie started painting when she was about the age of 80, and her pictures quickly became popular and adored works of modern Indigenous Australian art.

All the works of Minnie Pwerle were displayed all over Australia and accumulated by foremost galleries. However, there was pressure from those who are eager to get her work. For example, Minnie was purportedly abducted by those who wanted her to paint for them. In addition, there were media reports of her work being fake.

The work of Minnie is like that of Emily Kngwarreye, who was also from the Sandover and began acrylic painting later in life.

The Personal Life of Minnie Motorcar Apwerl

Minnie Pwerle – photo by Maliyaa

Minnie Pwerle was born very close to Utopia in the Northern Territory in the early 20th century. She started painting in late 1999 or 2000 at a very old age of 80 years. No one had asked her was always her response, whenever anybody asked her why she had not started work earlier, despite the fact that batik and painting works had been available in Utopia for more than 20 years.

By the 2000s, Minnie Pwerle was said to be living at Alparra, a community considered to be one of the largest communities in the Sandover region. Spry and sociable, she could exceed younger women, even in her eighties, and she kept making artworks until two days before she died on 18 March 2006. She lived longer than all her sisters except Maggie Pwerle, who was the mother of artists Kathleen and Gloria Pitjara.

Minnie Pwerle’s Career

The reception was instantly positive when Minnie determined to take up painting in 2000. It was on that note she had the maiden edition of her unaccompanied exhibition at Melbourne Flinders Lane gallery that same year. She was initially chosen to exhibit in the Torres Strait Islander and National Aboriginal Art ward in 2002.

Awelye Atnwengerrp 2 by Minnie Pwerle – photo by Cooks Hill Galleries

In the 2003 Award, one of Minnie Pwerle’s art pieces was exhibited. Her name was given as Pwerle or Minnie Motorcar Apwerl then. The asking price for the picture of this artist in the exhibition was the second highest and the highest for an artist from the central and western deserts. In the 2005 art competition, her Awelye Atnwengerrp 2 painting was shown. In 2004, she was named as one of the 50 most collectable artists of Australia by the Australian Art Collector.

Between 2000 and 2006, there were a lot of group and solo exhibitions of the work of Minnie at private galleries. Among these exhibitions are the:

  • 2003 and 2005 Japinka Gallery in Western Australia,
  • The 2000 and 2002 Adelaide’s Dacou Gallery
  •  2000 and 2002 and 2006 Sydney’s Gallery Savah
  • The 2000, 2004, and 2006 Melbourne’s Flinders Lane Gallery. This was the last of which was a collective exhibition carried out with her three sisters, who are all artists in their own right

Minnie was one of the Utopia artists with a totally different style of painting from that of other painting communities in the whole Western Desert—and attractively winning in the market place. However, Minnie was often put under significant pressure to create works. It was on this note that it was reported that she was allegedly kidnapped by people who are keen to go at any length to get her work.

Minnie’s know-how reproduced wider issues in the industry surrounding older artists. These artists have restricted education or English language skill and faced serious poverty problems with themselves and among their families. There were media news recommending that a number of the paintings traded under the name of Minnie were not made in any way made by her, in addition to being forced to paint by others.

Minnie’s Style of Painting

Minnie Pwerle, Bush Melon Sites, 2004, Acrylic on canvas – photo by Wentworth Galleries

The style of Minnie’s painting was impulsive and characterised by intrepid and lively colour carried out with great autonomy. Most of her works were done in acrylic, also known as synthetic polymer paint on canvas.  Her paintings comprised of representations of stories or characteristics for which she had a role in her family or tribe, as with other modern artists of the western and central deserts.

Minnie’s paintings consist of two major design themes. The painting is free-flowing with matching lines in a pendulous outline, portraying the body painting designs used in awelye or women’s ceremonies.

The second theme entails circular shapes, used to represent bush tomato, northern wild orange, and bush melon, among some forms of bushfood embodied in her works. Above all, the designs were distinguished as expansive, glowing flowing lines and circles.

Legacy of Minnie Purla

Bush Melon Seeds – photo by Mitchell Fine Art

Minnie Purla’s art and paintings were promptly included in the major public collections. Moreover, her works are among the 2009 exhibition of Indigenous Australian painting held at the Museum of Art in New York. A lot of her works later formed the foundation of a sequence of designer rugs, in addition to the paintings of her sisters, which described the cover of art detractor.

Minnie was considered one of the foremost modern women artists in Australia, ranking together with other distinguished aboriginal female painters, such as Kathleen Petyarre, Gloria Petyarre, and Dorothy Napangardi. Minnie is well thought-out to be one of the best known Indigenous artists in Australia whose work cannot be enough in the market.

Her Major Art Collections

  • The Kelton Foundation
  • AMP Collection
  • Hank Ebes Collection
  • The Thomas Vroom Collection
  • Queensland Art Gallery
  • National Gallery of Victoria
  • Kreglinger Collection
  • The Art Gallery of South Australia
  • The NSW Art Gallery

Her Death

Many years after taking up painting on canvas, Minnie Purla died on 18 March 2006.