Recent Major Sale for the Boss of Colour -
Ginger Riley Munduwalawala (C.1936-2002)
Greer Adams Fine Art is thrilled to announce the sale of four major works by revered late Australian Indigenous artist Ginger Riley Munduwalawala (c.1936-2002).
Two of the most significant works Munduwalawala ever produced, Mara Country, 1988 and Saltwater Country, 1988 sold for an artist’s record of $345,000 and $270,000 respectively.
Each with impeccable provenance, the works have never been offered on the market since their purchase between 1988-1997.
Munduwalawala, with his joyous use of colour, was the first Indigenous artist to be given a major retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
All of the work’s sold were included in the retrospective where Saltwater Country, 1988 adorned the cover of the catalogue and prior to this Mara Country, 1988 was reproduced on the cover of another important exhibition, Aboriginal Art and Spirituality held in Canberra at the High Court of Australia in 1991.
“I’ve been privileged to handle the sale of a number of masterworks by Australian Indigenous artists over the past decade and this particular group is special," Greer Adams said.
"Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a strong trend towards collector’s wanting to discreetly buy rare works of great quality that are fresh to the market. One of my greatest joys - and ultimate satisfaction - is marrying great paintings with inspired buyers.
Mara Country, 1988, is one of the artist’s first paintings of heroic scale that tells the entire story for which he is responsible – his mother’s country around the Limmen Bight and Limmen Bight River in the Northern Territory of Australia.
Perhaps his most comprehensive and detailed composition of this size, Riley has drawn together many of the vibrant icons of his country: Bulukbun the fierce fire breathing serpent-dragon, Ngak Ngak the white-breasted sea eagle, the shark’s liver tree, Jatukal (plains kangaroo) and Yulmunji the shark.
The painting is a true celebration of colour. Colour itself was a discovery that opened Riley’s mind to paint large-scale landscapes to depict his mother’s country and this use of colour was inspired by a chance encounter with Albert Namatjira’s watercolour landscapes as a teenager.
Riley was granted Native Title to his Mother’s Country in 2000. Mara Country, 1988 was also integral to this process.
Beverly Knight, the Executor of the Estate of Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, said Saltwater Country, 1988 always held a special place in Riley’s heart . In fact, when it was returned from a Melbourne gallery in 1988 for not being ‘exhibition worthy’, instead of disposing of the work, the artist treasured it under his bed. The painting was acquired by Anthony Knight directly from the artist at Ngukurr in 1989. Many years later Munduwalawala, along with Judith Ryan, the National Gallery of Victoria’s Senior curator of Aboriginal Art, chose the work for the cover of the retrospective catalogue, finally giving the painting the recognition, it deserved.
Created during an artist’s in residency at Araluen Art Centre in Alice Springs, Ngak Ngak and the Owl at Night, 1997, is a rare example and significant milestone for the artist. Riley, as caretaker of his mother’s country, was only allowed to paint the sun, rain and clouds but never the moon, stars or wind. In this example, the artist adhered to cultural restrictions by not painting the moon but rather bathing his mother’s country in moonlight. The work was also shown alongside Yoko Ono at 2000 Sydney Biennale at the Art Gallery of NSW.
The fourth and final masterwork of this group is Ngak Ngak and the Four Archers, 1990. It bears many of Riley’s vibrant icons of country that make up a quintessential Marra  Country painting: Ngak Ngak, the ancestral trees, ancestors, the creator snakes and the Four Archers depicted here as three archers – depending on the vantage point, you can sometimes see two, three or four.
During 1989-1991, Riley introduced the V-shaped designs into his paintings, sometimes to frame his Limmen Bight country paintings with Marra iconography and at other times he allowed them to engulf the whole painting. According to Beverly Knight, “These triangles are directly related to his body paint in ceremony. The V-shapes were painted on his shoulders and stripes across his forehead. He used to tell me this all the time.” 
Personal correspondence with Beverly Knight, 2018.
The spelling of Munduwalawala’s language group has changed from Mara to Marra in recent years.
Personalcorrespondence with Beverly Knight, 2018.