Born Kurlidjkalh or Djidkdul, Northern Territory, Australia 1915, died Northern Territory 1987
A senior member of the Barabba clan from South-Central Arnhem Land, Wally Mandarrk was one of the last artists of the area known to paint on rock. Mandarrk’s bark paintings have a strong correlation to this earlier practice in both the materials used and subjects depicted. His paintings of mimih spirits, bush food, animals and plants from his region were painted in a simple figural style with thick, white pigment made from natural materials. Because of his adherence to tradition, Mandarrk is considered to be one of the most important artists linking rock artists of the past and bark painters of today.1
Due to Mandarrk’s preference for living a secluded life in his traditional country, it was not until 1946 when he was well into his twenties that he first came into contact with a white person. In 1948 he met the anthropologist Charles P. Mountford who was visiting Arnhem Land collecting art on a National Geographic Society funded field-trip. Mandarrk’s bark paintings were among artworks collected by anthropologists that were later placed in Australian museums and art galleries.
Mandarrk’s bark paintings are represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. His work has been included in numerous exhibitions including Crossing Country: The Alchemy of Western Arnhem Land Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales (2004) and Men of High Degree, National Gallery of Victoria (1997).
1 Hettie Perkins, Crossing Country: The Alchemy of Western Arnhem Land Art, (exhibition catalogue), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004, p. 16.