Doreen Reid Nakamarra was born near the Warburton Ranges in Western Australia in the mid 1950s. As a young girl she walked with her parents and other family members to the Lutheran settlement of Haasts Bluff, which had been serving as a ration depot since the early 1940s. Her family later spent time at the nearby community of Papunya, where she attended school. Following this they returned to the south-west to live at the Warburton community, enabling them to be closer to their traditional homelands. As a single woman, in the early 1980s Doreen travelled to Kintore, where she met her husband, George ‘Tjampu’ Tjapaltjarri, who later established himself as a painter with Papunya Tula Artists. They eventually settled further west at the small isolated community of Kiwirrkura in Western Australia, to be closer to George’s country. George passed away early in 2005 but Doreen continues to live and paint in Kiwirrkura, occasionally travelling south to visit relatives in Warakurna and Warburton.
In 1996 Doreen was one of a small group of women in Kiwirrkura who painted their first works through Papunya Tula Artists. She was a very occasional artist from 1996 until 2000, producing only a handful of paintings during this time. In the following years, however, her artistic output increased as her confidence and desire to participate grew. Between 2001 and 2003 she completed more than sixty works. Today she approaches the largest canvases with no hesitation, and demonstrates a high level of expertise.
During the course of her developing career, Doreen’s style and compositional range continued to change. In the early period, the iconography in her work was typical of her contemporaries in its representation of women’s food-gathering stories. By 2003 she had developed a particular composition that satisfied both her cultural interpretation of the ancestral stories referred to in her paintings, and the audience’s love for contemporary minimalism. This development marked a pivotal moment in the market’s recognition and appreciation of her work. Her style was influenced by her late husband, who also painted in a dichromatic minimalist manner. His work was best known for its mesmerising optical effects, illustrated in the larger canvases executed towards the end of his career.
Nakamarra is a quiet achiever who has been gradually honing her skills over the last decade. Currently she is leading a group of relatively young women painters from Kiwirrkura who have continued to explore intricate line workand subtle colour shifts. Her combination of fine brushwork and precise technique has ensured that even her smallest works are highly detailed. On the larger formats, her current style of finely drawn zigzags combined with broken lines of alternate coloured dotting creates an optical effect in which the canvas appears to rise and fall like a series of meandering ridges and valleys. These are tali, or sandhills, which surround all the major women’s sites at Kiwirrkura that Doreen refers to in her work. Doreen has expanded on the theme and recently has introduced an even more subtle use of colour, using two or sometimes three slight tonal variations, and combining them with the complex, wavering line work that has become synonymous with her signature pieces.
Nakamarra’s exhibition history peaked last year when she was represented in twelve shows, including Right here, right now at the National Gallery of Australia, the Melbourne Art Fair and Pintupi at the Hamiltons Gallery in London. Her paintings have an appeal that attracts the viewer from a purely contemporary perspective, and have succeeded in introducing new audiences to Western Desert art.