An incredible story: Kumantje Jagamara and Imants Tillers


While Kumantje (Michael Nelson) Jagamara AM and Imants Tillers have worked on panel paintings collaboratively since 2001, creating 24 works, Metafisica Australe 2017 (illustrated) holds special meaning: it reflects on the origins of their collaboration, which developed following Tillers’s use of elements of Jagamara’s Five Stories 1984 in his 1985 work titled The Nine Shots. His conscious copying of Jagamara’s cultural motifs is an example of the controversial practice of engaging with other artists’ imagery – a ‘postmodernist gesture’, typically done without the artist’s permission. However, while Tillers’s actions inspired an intense art-world debate, they also initiated a dialogue that became the foundation for a remarkable chapter in Australian art history and a 17 year friendship and collaboration, one that continues to flourish today.

Kumantje (Michael Nelson) Jagamara AM, Warlpiri/Luritja people, Australia, b.c.1946 and Imants Tillers, Australia, b.1950 / Metafisica Australe 2017 / Synthetic polymer paint and gouache on 72 canvas boards (nos 98450–98521) / 229 x 285cm / Image courtesy: The artists, and Michael Eather, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane

Metafisica Australe is the most recent creation resulting from this extraordinary collaboration. The central motif of this work, and a pivotal element in their ongoing collaborative conversations, is Jagamara’s landmark painting, Five Stories, which quickly became an icon of contemporary Indigenous art of the late 1980s. More recently, in 2016, the painting was sold at auction in England, where it established a record price for a work by a living Aboriginal artist.

In March 2017, Jagamara painted a larger, more highly detailed version of Five Stories across 36 canvas boards. The following month, Tillers went to Papunya to visit Jagamara at his home, and later completed the collaborative work by adding a further 36 boards, which contain Warlpiri placenames and dreaming sites, and selected metaphysical and poetic references.

Metafisica Australe is a rich, contemporary symbiosis of the personal, professional and cultural reflections of two great Australian artists.

Their story

Listen to Michael Eather in conversation with Kumantje (Michael Nelson) Jagamara AM and Imants Tillers as they expand on the incredible story which brought them together.

Watch as the 72 canvas boards of ‘Metafisica Australe’ are installed

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution First Australians make to the art and culture of this country.

It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name of the deceased. All such mentions are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.

Featured image detail: Kumantje (Michael Nelson) Jagamara and Imants Tillers with Metafisica Australe 2017