Australia 1918 – 2009
Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, Western Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Washes of nuanced colour and unhurried traceries of line are the simple means by which Gooniyandi artist Kunmanara Cherel created his enriching illuminations of country. His paintings on paper and canvas are concerned with the events of the Ngarrangkarni (Dreaming) in Yiminarra, an area to the east of Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley that Cherel called home. Cherel’s singular iconography was derived from ancestral markings and the patterns formed by natural elements such as receding floodwaters, animal tracks and the scattering of leaves after humid tropical storms. His abstracted studies of plant foods, conceptualised in cross-section, relate to a cultural imperative to teach younger people about the location, seasonal availability and curative and nutritional value of bush foods.
The girndi manyi (bush plum) is a fruit that is found in limestone country and collected during the wet season. Prized for its sweetness and medicinal properties it can be eaten raw or dried for later use. The background colour of the painting shifts from a soft pink to a muted purple, reflecting the gradual ripening of the girndi manyi. A loose grid of white dots indicates the fleshy fruit and five semi-circles infilled with opaque dotting represent the inedible elongated seeds.
While his oeuvre is punctuated with recurring themes, Cherel never resorted to a formula. Constantly inspired by the unfolding splendour of nature, each work reveals the intense vitality of place and the depth of his imagination. Cherel’s inimitable paintings educed not only a new way of painting country, but also awakened a new way of being in it.
 In accordance with tradition, the names of the recently deceased are not uttered, and the artist is currently referred to by this alternative name. For the sake of clarity, the artist is Janangoo Butcher Cherel.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010