Gloria Petyarre c.1945

Language: Anmatyerre
Region:      Utopia

Dreaming: Bush Medicine Leaves, Mountain Devil Lizard, Bean,

Emu, Pencil Yam, Grass Seed, Small Brown Grass,

Traditional Women’s Body Paint, Large Bush Leaf


Gloria Petyarre was born around 1945 in Atnangker Soakage, Northern Territory. She is the niece of the late and famous Emily Kame Kngwarreye (c.1910-1996). Gloria’s family lineage is full of emerging, established and collectible Aboriginal artists namely her father, Greeny Purvis Petyarre (dec.), her Uncle Kudditji Kngwarreye and sisters Kathleen, Violet, Nancy, Ada, Myrtle and Jean.

Gloria has been creating contemporary Indigenous art for over 40 years and her simplistic lines and style has found favour with collectors and art lovers all over Australia and the world.

The Batik Program in 1977 opened the doors for the people of Utopia. This program allowed artists to paint on canvas with acrylic paints for the first time. Gloria was one of the many women who emerged from this group in the early 1980’s and permanently moved on to paint acrylic on canvas.

Since then, Gloria has become a significant artist within the Utopia region and her work has found its own style through the years collaborating abstract, movement and simplicity in her canvasses.

In 1999, Gloria was awarded the prestigious Wynne prize by the NSW Art Gallery for her Leaves artwork and ten years later in 2009, she was the first Australian artist to be commissioned by French company Hermès to design one of its signature silk scarves.

Gloria remains to be one of the most sought after Indigenous artists of our time and her craft is continually growing and evolving for the benefit of Aboriginal art as a whole. She is a great representation of an ongoing successful Utopia artist. Gloria currently resides with her children and grandchildren between Alice Springs and Utopia in the Northern Territory, Australia.


The Mountain Devil Lizard

The Mountain Devil Lizard, also known as Thorny Devil or Thorny Dragon and its latin name which is Moloch horridus.

The mountain devil lizard only grows to a maximum of about 20 centimetres and disguises itself with a look that is harsh, spiky and threatening but when touched the mountain devil lizards skin is soft and harmless. The scary exterior is natures’ way of repelling potential predators away from this nontoxic creature. The mountain devil lizard has the ability to change its skin colour to camouflage against the shades of the desert sands, land and bushes in hues of browns, tans and olive. This enhances the reptiles’ chances of survival in the harsh desert conditions. It eats very small ants and is very shy and timid. The mountain devil lizard moves slowly with a jerky motion leaving a distinguishing pattern of hemispherical tracks.

‘Mountain Devil Lizard’ Dreaming –

Arnkerrth (The Old Woman Mountain Devil) Dreaming

Gloria along with her sisters and brothers has custodial rights to the Arnkerrth (The Old Woman Mountain Devil) Dreaming. This Dreaming explains the important landforms and seasonal availability of food and water on Atnangker, Gloria’s birthplace.

The story is about an Old Woman Arnkerrth who danced alone and the younger generations leaves her all alone in the desert by herself, dancing on her own. When she saw that both the young males and young females of the group had abandoned her against her wishes, she was very irritated. She was irritated not because she was left alone; she was irritated because she was the only one who had the greatest knowledge of the land and its terrain. She was the one that could lead them to food and water. The survival of all depended on her, the Old Woman Arnkerrth but the young ones did not understand this. Old Woman Arnkerrth was determined to find them and explain to them that survival in the desert is determined by the reliability of all members of the group.

Until today, there is a continuing need for formal ceremonies where dependability is ingrained into the young males and females of the group. This is to teach each of them the magnitude of being reliable and dependable at all times for the group, that each person in the group is equally as important for survival. In ceremonies, the Arnkerrth is celebrated in their Awelye (Women’s Body Paint). Paint is applied strategically on the women’s bodies and the story of Old Woman Arnkerrth is re-enacted. This enables the past, the present and the future to have a deep connection with the Dreaming, the Atnangker country and of course their ancestor Arnkerrth.

Each Petyarre sister has their own interpretation of the Mountain Devil Lizard. Gloria’s expressive interpretation of the Mountain Devil Lizard is about the lizards’ physical appearance. Gloria gets her inspiration from the erratic design on the Mountain Devil Lizard’s body and also the imaginative portrayal of the reptiles’ skin being shed. The skin sheds in curls and the desert has multiple circular shapes strewn through the sand when it is shedding season.

Gloria paints this Dreaming with circular strokes using a flexible brush evoking movement and energy. Mostly, this Dreaming is represented by layering three complementing colours emulating the design as it would be found on the reptile in nature or its skin found on the desert sands.