Crawford House Publishing
rarrk Journey in Time in Northern Australia

SYNOPSIS: John Mawurndjul is one of Australia’s leading Aboriginal artists, if not the greatest of the living. This is a comrehensive monograph to be published in order to explore the many facets and avenues not only of John Mawurndjul’s works, but following up on daily, practical and theoretical issues influencing Australian indiginous art.

John Mawurndjul is an innovator who has developed Kunwinjku bark painting from an iconic art form into a non-figurative style with a compelling geometry, building on the work of older leading Kunwinjku artists Yirawala, Marralwanga and Njiminjuma. Mawurndjul has, over the years, forged a new way of painting out of the old, transforming the dot infill X-ray method derived from figurative rock art and body painting into a total of non-figurative works, composed entirely of masses of rarrk (cross hatching), unrelieved by figurative motifs. His complex and understated geometry, which is made up of infinitesimal, moiré-like cross-hatched variations – occasioning multiple shifts and optical gyrations within the paint layer – is no longer contained within the figurative envelope of an ancestral being, Mawurndjul invented a geometry which takes up the entire surface of the painting and today must be seen as the central focus of his work. As Judith Ryan, curator for indigenous art at the National Gallery of Victoria explains, the rarrk itself is indicative of ancestral potency and points to hidden internalized layers of past and present ceremonial practice. Ceremonies seldom performed today, but into which Mawurndjul was initiated as a young man, have left a lasting impression on his development as an artist. John Mawurndjul’s work transcends its cultural and personal points of origin. It must be seen as indicative of his inherited rights and responsibilities to particular tracts of land, including ancestral sites and land-related ceremonies. This is represented in Land Rights – a highly political claim in Australia.

Taking the rapidly changing development of the past two or three decades as an indicator, John Mawurndjul’s work fits well into a theoretical debate of how art was produced and understood in the course of the late twentieth century – in his case a body of works which has been widely neglected and taunted as “primitive”, “ethnic” and/or “folk art” – and consequently draws us into an ongoing theoretical debate which marks the beginning and transformations of the new century we are entangled in. However, the pace and extent of the transformations that have taken place, and the sheer diversity of the art that has been, and still is being produced, mean that no single interpretative model can do justice to the whole. To quote Jason Gaiger, the contested nature of the past decades of twentieth-century art – and as a matter of fact of the art produced today – the competing claims for its significance have resulted in a plurality of interpretative approaches that rarely coincide either in their evaluative conclusions or in their underlying theoretical assumptions.

Over the course of the second half of the twentieth century, the visual culture of indigenous Australians received increasing exposure as ‘Aboriginal art’ through a series of high-profile exhibitions, first in Australia itself and subsequently on the international stage. One of the most prominent was the controversial Magiciens de la Terre, the exhibition in which John Mawurndjul was shown predominantly with a body of six works (among others such as Jack Wunuwun, Jimmy Wululu and the ground-painting of the six men from Yuendemu beneath Richard Long’s Mud Circle). Subsequently, and together with other manifestations, this presentation in Paris reflected the general increase of interest in “non-western” visual culture in the West.


Guido Magnaguagno, Museum Tinguely & Clara Wilpert, Museum der Kulturen Basel

PHOTO ESSAY - Erika Koch


01- I never stop thinking about my rarrk - John Mawurndjul interviewed by Apolline Kohen
02- From Mumeka to Basel: John Mawurndjul’s artistic odyssey - Jon Altman
03- John Mawurndjul - “I’ve got a different idea” - Luke Taylor
04- Reverberation: Image and essence in John Mawurndjul’s art - Judith Ryan
05- From rarrk to etching - Jean Kohen
06-What makes the painter of the Rainbow serpent become an artist – a European point of view [working title] - Hans-Joachim Müller


06- Grids, dots and territory - Philippe Peltier
07- Marks on and of land: The relationship of rock and bark painting to people, places and the ancestral past - Paul Tacon
08- Bark Painting: A singular Aesthetic [in Arnhem Land] - Judith Ryan
11- Limits to Seeing – aesthetic experience and intercultural understanding - Claus Volkenandt


09- Karel Kupka in Australia: artist, collector, writer, anthropologist - Richard McMillan
12- Why Australian Aboriginal art matters in Basel ? [working title] - Christian Kaufmann
13- A glimpse on the Kupka collections in Paris and Basel - Philippe Peltier and C. Kaufmann
10- The Inevitable Collision between Politics and Indigenous Art - Gary Foley


- Biography John Mawurndjul
- List of works
- Glossary
- Maps
- Bibliography / Further Reading


John Mawurndjul


Back List




140 full color illustations, maps.


Hard cover, jacket, 264pp


280 x 230mm (11 x 9 inches)



© Copyright 2019 Crawford House Publishing Australia