Exhibition News

Patrick Freddy Puruntatameri at Alcaston Gallery, 2006.

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Published Thursday, 30 March 2006

In March this year (2006) Alcaston Gallery invited Patrick Freddy Puruntatameri to discuss his recent works in the exhibition Pukumani Pole Sculpture, Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne. Patrick was in Melbourne to demonstrate his sculpting technique at the Melbourne Museum as one of the artists participating in the Carve exhibition.

Patrick Freddy Puruntatameri was born in 1972 on Melville Island, which lies north of Darwin in the Arafura Sea. He is the son of Paddy Freddie Puruntatameri (now deceased) and the brother of Matthew and Deliah Puruntatameri, all of whom are accomplished artists.

Birds are a common image and theme, stemming from their belief system - they are considered messengers from the spirit world.

The rough outline of his sculptures is done with a chainsaw and then he uses various chisels to carve the detail and smooth it out. But, as the carvings are from a single log of ironbark the work is long and laborious - it can take two or three months to complete a large sculpture. The difficulty in carving the ironbark means that the sculptures are not ornately carved – however, the more collectible sculptures are intricately painted with the artist’s interpretation of their clan design – a geometric pattern that originated with body painting. Traditionally, artists used a softer bloodwood for their ceremonial poles which could quickly decompose back into the bush.

The Pukumani ceremony is a funereal ritual that invokes the production of tutini, parmagini (armbands) and tungas. The family of the deceased commission artists to create the sculptural poles. Patrick is one such artist.

Patrick uses a wooden comb (a pwata) to apply a line of dots to the ochre or black painted over the sculpture once he has finished carving rather than applying each individual dot. The sculptures are not simply made for the art market - there is a long tradition of carvers being commissioned to create carved poles for funereal cermonies. The funereal poles (tutini) are forked at the top to enable the bark baskets (tungas) to be turned upside down (representing the end of life) high above the ground. The sculptured poles are also used as part of the ceremony.

The Pukumani ceremony is a funereal ritual that invokes the production of tutini, parmagini (armbands) and tungas. The family of the deceased commission artists to create the sculptural poles. Patrick is one such artist.

The artist comes from a long line of sculptors that have made traditional poles for the social requirements of their community - he extends that traditional style into a commercial space so that it reaches a broader audience as well as for commercial reasons. The sculptures on display could happily live inside or outdoors – ironbark is an extremely durable wood although it would be a shame to gradually loose the painted surface to the weather. The patterning on Patrick's carvings is bold, unique and decorative. The Melville Island artists have to travel for a number of hours to the particular location on the island where they can replenish their supplies of the white and yellow ochre.

The sculptures are not heavily decorated nor are they elaborately carved, however they have a presence and are the product of a great deal of labour.

From left to right by Patrick Freddy Puruntatameri,
  • Tokwampini, the bird, 2005, Natural ochres on ironwood. Tokwampini is the messenger in the pukumani mythology.
  • Tutini - Pukumani Pole, 2005, natural ochres on ironwood.
  • Tjurukukuni, the owl who acted as messenger for the Tiwi lovers Wai-ai and Taparra. Tjurukukuni (Owl), 2005, Natural ochres on ironwood.
Tokwampini by Patrick Freddy Puruntatameri @ Alcaston 2006 Tutini by Patrick Freddy Puruntatameri @ Alcaston 2006 Tjurukukuni by Patrick Freddy Puruntatameri @ Alcaston 2006
Interested readers might wish to refer to the following articles at Artbank
and Alcaston Gallery.

By Martin Shub, 2006.

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