Pwerle approaches the canvas with much more than the usual degree of confidence. Her lines are bold and sure, echoing those of her grandmother Minnie Pwerle, but with the assurance of a much more practised artist than her years of experience would suggest. The brushwork in her body designs, Awelye, has all the characteristics of this family dreaming, but Charmaine lends her own distinct creative flair, pattern and movement to the canvas.
Charmaine is definitely a family person and lives in Alice Springs with her four daughters, son and large family. Her education has been varied, to say the least. Straddling the worlds of the remote outpost of Utopia (280 km North East of Alice Springs) until the age of seven, then immediately following this, the urban environment of Adelaide where she was sent to ‘improve her education.‘
At the age of ten, Charmaine returned to Utopia School for a further year, before attending St. Phillips College in Alice Springs. Next on the agenda was Alice Springs High School and then she returned to Utopia for a few years before moving back to Adelaide to study.
In 1992, Charmaine returned to Utopia and worked for Urapuntja Council as a junior administration assistant while living with her mother Barbara Weir and grandparents Minnie Pwerle and Motorcar Jim at Soakage Bore, on an outstation on what used to be Utopia Station. During the years she spent at Utopia, Charmaine’s education extended to embrace her people’s culture, performing in ceremonies and learning the sacred stories passed on to her by her grandmothers.
Charmaine’s early works were impressively executed and rich with culture and expression. In the years that have followed, she has developed her obvious talent and appears to be following in her mother’s footsteps, as one of the most sought after artists living and working today. Her exhibition history both nationally and internationally is growing exponentially, and her work is starting to be acquired by major institutions such as the NGV.
Charmaine Pwerle’s artwork ‘Awelye Atnwengerrp’ represents when the Women paint each other’s breasts and upper bodies with ochre markings, before dancing in a ceremony. The body designs are important and, painted on the chest and shoulders, and relate to each particular woman’s dreaming. The ochre pigment is ground into powder form and mixed with charcoal and ash, before being applied with a flat padded stick or with fingertips in raw linear and curving patterns. The circles in these designs represent the sites and movement where the ceremonies take place.
The lines in the painting depict the tracks that her people made as they trekked across the country in search of food and dry river beds. The large semi-circular shapes represent the sandhills and valleys. The dark colour represents the path of a fire that has swept across the land. There may also be an outline of a person or unusual shapes that convey Dreaming spirits that dwell in the plant and animal life.
Charmaine Pwerle is certainly an established artist, with her works being sourced for prominent collections worldwide.