Clever Hands

April 26, 2012













One of the many many highlights of my recent visit to the Northern Territories was to spend some time with the artists.  Before I went there were a couple of artists I really wanted to say hello to, if at all possible, one of these was Shorty Robertson. 

We arrived at Yuendumu after a long and bumpy ride down a red and dusty road and found our way to the art centre.  There was just one artist sitting on the verandah next to a fire with a couple of sleepy dogs.  His was wearing a hat and had his head down over a painting so we could not see his face so I looked to the painting he was working on and in a heartbeat I knew it could only be Shorty. 

In the time that we have had Shorty's work in the gallery I have always said to people that you don't need a big Shorty to fill a space there is a power in his work that is just hugh.  I can now quite see where this came from having met and spent a bit of time with him, he is not a big man but there is a power to him that is just extraordinary. 

Shorty Jangala Robertson was born in the 1930s at Jila (Chilla Well), a large soakage and claypan north west of Yuendumu. He lived a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle with his parents, older brother and extended Warlpiri family. They travelled vast distances across desert country, passing through Warlukurlangu, south west of Jila and Ngarlikurlagu, north of Yuendumu, visiting Jangalas, his skin brothers.

It is extraordinary in all his travels and jobs over his whole working life, that he escaped the burgeoning and flourishing Central Desert art movement of the 1970s and 1980s. Thus Shortys paintings are fresh, vigorous and new. His use of colour to paint and interpret his dreamings of Ngapa (Water), Watiyawarnu (Acacia), Yankirri (Emu) and Pamapardu (Flying Ant) is vital, yet upholding the Warlpiri tradition. This fledgling artist in his 80s is an active member of Warlukurlangu Co-operative. He lives at Yuendumu with his wife and artist Lady Nungarrayi Robertson.