Wednesday, November 19, 2008


The 'Bush Medicine' style paintings are one of the most iconic painting styles from the Utopia Region - north east of Alice Springs.

Gloria Petyarre winner of the 1999 Wynne Prize for Landscape painting, is credited with being creator of the Bush Medicine painting style.

Many people think her paintings look like sea-grass or long grass blowing in a field.

But the painting really represents the 'Bush Medicine Plant'.

Many Aboriginal Australians have an extensive knowledge of their land, and an acute knowledge of 'bush medicine' that enables them to treat any number of ailments drawing only from the natural resources available to them such as plants, fire, charcoal and in some cases sourcery or 'Medicine Men'.

We asked Gloria what exactly is the Bush Medicine Plant that she paints - and she pointed to this tree. Through a process of elimination at the local plant nursery in Alice Springs we've pretty much concluded that this is the 'witchetty bush' or Acacia Kempeana.

Gloria told us that you can pull the leaves from the plant and brew a tea from the leaves but you only have this if you're really really sick with a chest cold. Our guess is that it probably tastes really awful or it could be a mild form of poison - anyway if you know more - let us know because we're not botanists, scientists or chemists and people always ask!

I have also been told that the oil from the leaves can be mixed with kangaroo fat and used as an antiseptic - I have no doubt there are a thousand 'bush medicine' cures out there...

The Bush Medicine Plant is a subject that Gloria paints - but there are several other painters who are also allowed to paint the bush medicine plant. The elders and family members of each community determine who is allowed to own certain stories. Not all painters can paint all stories and it can be very upsetting for Aboriginal people when these rules are not followed.

Jeannie Petyarre is one of Gloria's relatives - their fathers were 'brothers' through traditional law and Jeannie and Gloria are sisters in traditional law as they share the same Skin Name 'Petyarre' (also spelt Pitjara).

Jeannie paints a number of Dreaming stories and one of them is the Bush Medicine plant.

Typically Jeannie's paintings look like an explosion of leaves from the centre of the painting - perhaps most incredibly is that Jeannie paints her works from the outside in and FINISHES at the centre - check it out...

Jeannie's paintings have grown immensely in popularity over the years. Jeannie's paintings look stunning no matter what size from 30x30 cm all the way up to 200cm x200cm. As Jeannie has become more and more popular we have struggled to keep up with demand for this kind of work and so we have started working with another painter who also paints the Bush Medicine plant. Her name is Janet Golder Kngwarreye.
Janet is a lovely lady who lives in Alice Springs with her kids and husband Ronnie who also paints. Janet went to school in Santa Teresa and was also given an education in the ways of her traditional culture.

We find Janet interesting because she is one of the first people we've worked closely with who has both a traditional and western education. Janet is a stay at home mum and has four kids - her youngest child has started school and she finds time to paint during the day.

So we have Bush Medicine plant paintings from the highly collectable Gloria, the highly popular Jeannie and the pleasure to deal with Janet!

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