Septuagenarian Jimmy Donegan first saw the ocean in 2010 when travelling to Darwin for the 27th Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Art Awards. He returned to the small community of Kalka in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands having won the coveted Telstra art award as well as the general painting category award, the first artist to win both at the same time. Born and raised in remote Western Australia, Donegan laboured as a stockman, craftsman, and senior lawman, and in the 1970s helped organise the outstations movement. Since beginning to paint in 2000, the artist has become renown nationally and abroad for his rich and vivid compositions of his cultural inheritance. He now paints for Ninuku Arts in the APY Lands of South Australia.
Pukara is named after a waterhole south west of Irrunytju in Western Australia. Within the vicinity of this sacred men’s site, many Dreaming stories come together. This is reflected in the complex design of the work, which references the lay of the land, the seasonal abundance of vegetation, and the interactions of ancestral figures. The waterhole itself holds stories once belonging to Jimmy Donegan’s paternal grandfather.
The subject of Pukara concerns the kaliny-kalinypa or honey grevillea plants, whose nectar is a type of bush lolly. In the Tjukurpa (Dreaming story), a father and son water snake (Wati Kutjara Wanampi) are living at Pukara and tire of people accessing the site for its honey-infused water. They tell the people to leave, before traveling themselves. On returning to the site, female flies (Minyma Punpunpa) are buzzing around the honey, prompting the two snakes to collect the honey. While doing so, a black ant (Wati Mutata) spears the son in his side, causing yellow and orange seeds to scatter around the site, sowing the land with the variety of honey grevillea plants that now prosper there.
Stylistically, Donegan’s work traces back to the legacy of the early Western desert art movement. Yet the free-flowing composition with its sharp, meandering lines and clusters of vibrant colour show an artist confident in his evolving style. In its boldness and colour, Pukara hints at the honey grevillea and its sweet nectar.