Artist:                     Kathleen Petyarre
Born:                      c. 1940 – November, 2018.
Language:             Anmatyerre
Country:                 Atnangkere, NT

Kathleen  became one of Australia’s most highly respected and well-known Aboriginal women painters and won several major competitions. No important Aboriginal art collection is complete without work from this iconic artist.  She was a founding artist of the very early Batik painting movement in Utopia along with her sisters, and then moved into painting on canvas and linen when the modern Aboriginal art movement began in the late 1980’s.

Kathleen was born circa 1940, at the remote location of Atnangkere, an important water soakage for Aboriginal people on the western boundary of Utopia Station, 250 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia.  Kathleen belongs to the Alyawarre / Eastern Anmatyerre clan and speaks Eastern Anmatyerre, with English as her second language.   

Kathleen's mother and seven sisters held onto their land near Utopia Station as a group, establishing a camp at Atnetyeye - Boundary Bore. Kathleen was one of the key Anmatyerre women involved in the successful claim for the freehold title, which led to the 1979 formal hand-over of the Utopia pastoral lease back to its traditional owners. She settled there with her daughter, Margaret, and her sister's. She also spent part of the year at her residence in Adelaide.

Kathleen's inherited Dreaming stories from her paternal grandmother and all of her paintings directly refer to country around Utopia in the eastern central desert of Australia. She demonstrates her detailed and accurate knowledge of, and respect for, her country through her remarkable paintings.  Petyarre’s finely dotted, linear abstracted maps include those based on the representation of the Mountain or Thorny Devil Lizard (arnkerrth) and the land through which Aboriginal people believe that this creation ancestor travelled.  She often also depicts the soakages and bores which dot this large tract of land.

Kathleen is the niece of great Aboriginal artist, the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye and although she was present at the beginning of the painting movement and had been collected as an emerging artist, her career really blossomed after winning the Telstra’s (NATSIAA) in 1996 with a painting called Storm in Atnangkere Country.  Since 1998, her work has become known for a more minimalist style – restrained dotting all over in rigid graphic patterns.

Kathleen’s considerable reputation as one of the most original indigenous artists has since been confirmed nationally and internationally by her regular inclusion in exhibitions at the most reputed museums and galleries. A book about her art, ‘Genius of Place’, was published in 2001 in conjunction with a solo exhibition of her works at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, and her paintings can be found in public and private collections all over the world. Her work has been selected, along with just a handful of Aboriginal artists, for inclusion in the permanent collection of the new Musée du quai Branly in Paris.

Kathleen Petyarre paintings remain among the most sought-after Aboriginal works. She was repeatedly nominated by the influential journal Australian Art Collector as being among ‘the 50 most collectable artists in Australia’ and her works consistently show the highest degree of innovation.

Kathleen passed away in November, 2018 and is greatly missed by her family and collectors around the world.


  • 1996 Overall Winner of the Telstra 13th National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award (NATSIAA), Darwin, NT., Australia.
  • 1997 Overall Winner of the Visy Board Art Prize, SA. Australia.
  • 1998 People’s Choice Award, Seppelts Contemporary Art Award - Visual Art. Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, NSW Australia.


  • 1996 "Kathleen Petyarre - Storm in Aknangkerre Country" Alcaston House Gallery, Melbourne, Vic., Australia.
  • 1998 Arnkerrthe - My Dreaming, Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne, Vic., Australia, 24 July - 15 August.
  • 1999 Recent Paintings by Kathleen Petyarre, Coo-ee Gallery, Mary Place, Sydney, NSW., Australia, 4 - 21 November.
  • 2000 Landscape: Truth and Beauty, Recent Paintings by Kathleen Petyarre, Alcaston Gallery, November l 6th - December 6th
  • 2000 Kathleen Petyarre, Retrospective Exhibition, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, NSW, 9th May - 22nd July.
  • 2001 Genius of Place. The work of Kathleen Petyarre. Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, NSW, Australia, May - 22nd July.


  • Paintings Collection of H. M. Queen Elizabeth 11
  • National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT, Australia
  • The Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth, WA, Australia.
  • The Museum & Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT, Australia.
  • Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, S.A. Australia.
  • Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide, S.A. Australia
  • The Kluge-Rhue Collection, University of West Virginia, VA, USA.
  • The Kelton Foundation, Los Angeles, CA., USA.
  • The Levi-Kaplan Collection, Seattle, WA., USA
  • Harvard University, Boston, MA, USA
  • T.S.I.C. Collection, Adelaide, S.A. Australia.
  • National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Vic. Australia.
  • Museum Puri Lukisan, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
  • University of South Australia Art Museum, Adelaide, S.A. Australia.
  • Riddoch Regional Art Gallery, Mount Gambier, S.A. Australia.
  • Edith Cowan University, Perth, W.A. Australia.
  • Musee du Quai, Branly, Paris, France.
  • Collection de Musee des Arts d'Afrique et d'Oceanie, Paris, France.
  • Peabody - Essex Anthropology and Ethnology Museum, Harvard University, Salem, Mass., USA.

 About the Petyarre Sisters:

The Petyarre sisters stand unique as a group of women who have, as a family, dominated women’s art in Australia for three decades. 

“The seven Petyarre sisters of the Utopia area of Central Australia have, since the early 1990’s, all become painters of significance.  Some are full- and others half-sisters, with four different mothers and one father.  They are Ada Bird (b.1930), Myrtle (b. c.1932) Nancy (b. 1934), Violet (b. 1938), Gloria (b. 1945), Kathleen (b. 1940), Jean (b. c. 1950) and Rosemary Petyarre (b. 1965).  The Petyarre sisters share the same dreaming of the Mountain or Thorny Devil Lizard (arnkerrth) – the patterns and colours of which change as camouflage, depending on the background patterns of its environment.  The sisters are thus able to depict myriad designs, all under this dreaming which they interpret along with others based on awelye (women’s body design) and a large variety of bush foods and other subjects.  The works of all the sisters were shown together for the first time in Seven Sisters Petyarre, Brisbane City Gallery, 2002).”

 Source:  The New McCullochs Encyclopedia of Australian Art, Section Australian Aboriginal Art and Artists, (page 132,) Petyarre Sisters:  by Alan McCulloch, Susan McCulloch, Emily McCulloch Childs.

 Update:  Ada Bird Petyarre passed away in July 2009.  In November 2009 Nancy Petyarre passed away. Myrtle passed away in 2014, Kathleen died in November 2018 and Gloria passed away in 2022.

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