Otto Pareroultja The hills behind Hermannsburg c1954

Otto Pareroultja

Australia 1914-1973
Initially influenced by their countryman Albert Namatjira, and by Rex Battarbee, the Melbourne watercolourist who worked closely with the Hermannsburg artists, Pareroultja and his brothers developed their own distinctive styles. In their paintings, the landscape is less representational than in Namatjira’s more famous work, and is animated by vigorous, sinuous lines, dynamic areas of repeated patterning and strong colours massed together.

Commentators at the time saw the parallel lines and concentric circles often used by the Pareroultja brothers as distinctly Aboriginal motifs, signalling a modern Aboriginal art movement. Battarbee claimed that elements of Otto’s work were derived from Aboriginal rock art and from designs on tjurunga (sacred objects).

The hills behind Hermannsburg c1954

This watercolour depicts Pareroultja’s country in the Central Desert region of Australia. A Western Aranda man, his home community was Ntaria (Hermannsburg). He and his brothers Reuben and Edwin worked and painted at the Lutheran mission there, and helped establish a watercolour movement with Albert Namatjira.

Pareroultja’s paintings draw on his intimate knowledge of his land and culture. A white ghost gum in front of distant mountains is a common motif of the Hermannsburg school. The anthropologist TGH Strehlow likened Pareroultja’s work to traditional Western Aranda sacred carving, and referred to ancient stories ‘according to which many of these old gums had arisen from poles abandoned on their travels by their original totemic ancestors’.