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John Mawurndjul : Master of the Abstract Bark

John Mawurndjul is an important and prolific Bark Painting Artist from Arnhem Land. He was born in 1952 at Mumeka and is from the Kuninjku people. The aim of this article is to assist readers in identifying if their aboriginal bark painting is by John Mawurndjul. It compares examples of his work.

If you have a John Mawurndjul bark painting to sell please contact me. If you want to know what your bark painting is worth to me please feel free to send me a Jpeg. I would love to see it.

It is Johns abstract bark paintings that are most dynamic and visually intriguing. These are large bark painting is completely covered with rarrk. The raark is sometimes interspersed with circles depicting Arnhem Land ceremonial areas.

His Rarrk is very fine and subtly changes elevation and direction when crossing vertical or horizontal black lines. This results in a visually dynamic composition.

Early Style

John started painting figurative works of Kuninjku mythological creatures and totemic animals. These included the Rainbow Serpent as well as local natural species, such as barramundi, bandicoots, and possum.

Unlike earlier artist from Oenpelli who showed the internal organs in an x-ray style, John used a complex array of cross-hatching. This cross-hatching or ‘rarrk’, derived from the body painting designs of the Mardayin ceremony. He was not the first artist to do this, as it was a common practice of  Yirawala and Mick Kubarku.

Mawurndjurl took it a stage further and almost completely abandoned all internal structure of his figures. John was also the first artist in this area to incorporate raark outside of the figures he painted. Traditionally the areas outside of figures are monochrome. John painted the rarrk designs increasingly to dominate. Eventually, it filled both the interior and surrounding space of his figures.

Later Style

In 1988 Mawurndjul abandoned figurative iconography. Instead, he created an abstracted vision of country on Bark completely made of Rarrk. John depicts his clan’s mythology and sacred sites associated Mardayin ceremony.

Yirawala had also done this a couple of times but John’s mastery of rarrk and designs were unique. This was a pioneering move, which several other artists tried to emulate.

Mawurndjul’s art continued to evolve throughout the 1990’s. He simplified and purified his style to create abstract works with a compelling and esoteric geometry. It is these abstract works that are really popular with collectors. Being highly abstract gives them a greater European aesthetic.

Mawurndjul also painted wooden Lorrkon hollow logs. These sculptures are also popular with collectors but it is the design of the paintwork that really determines their value.

Mawurndjul’s first solo exhibition was at Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi in 1993. He has since had four solo shows and been in many art competitions.

He has since gone on to paint the ceiling and pillars of the Musee du Quay Branly in Paris. Art Collector magazine, in 2006, referred to him as ‘the artist of the moment in Australia’ when listing him in its 50 most collectible artists.

John Mawundjul is sometimes spelled John Mawundjul, John Mawurndjurl, John Mawundjurl, John Mowandjul or even Mawandjul.

All images in this article are for educational purposes only.

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Western Arnhem land Artists and Artworks

John Mawurndjul Bark Painting Images

The following are images are not a complete list of works by the artist but give a good idea of the style and variety of the artist.

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