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The Sweet Tweet of Katie's Birds

Nyangulya Katie Nalgood is an artist and Walmajarri elder who has spent her days in Western Australia between Looma in the Kimberley and South Hedland in the Pilbara.

Throughout her life, Katie has always had a strong affinity to birds, the warm-blooded vertebrates the inspiration and subjects of her beautiful, bold art works.

By Tierney Seccull

“My love of birds began when I was a child. I used to listen to the birds. They used to wake us up in the morning. We had no TV, no watch. Those little things tell us the time – the morning birds, daytime birds and night time birds. They say goodnight to us, like ‘good night Katie’,” she says.

These days, Katie produces all of her artwork at Spinifex Hill Studio in South Hedland, WA, but in January, a selection of her sweet birds flock to the Top End for a special exhibition at Paul Johnstone Gallery. Johnstone says Katie’s work is very special.

“Painting with heart and soul, Katie’s bird portraits have the ability to carve through these troubling times to remind us of the innocence and beauty in these fabulous creatures,” he says.

Introduced to art by her husband many years ago, the two worked side-by-side in art and life. In addition to artworks, they created a family with six children, some going on to follow in their parent’s footsteps. Having worked collaboratively with her family on bird portraits over the years, these days Katie paints her own.

“Katie was very close to her late husband Mr Gardiner, and often painted collaboratively with him and some of her children. In the early days, she experimented with all sorts of subject matter – landscapes, portraits, et cetera – until she found her love with birds,” Johnstone says.

Depicting her beloved birds through a joyful palette, with thick acrylic brushstrokes on canvas, Katie says she simply paints what she sees.

“I see them in photographs, these colours, and from my house. Birds are very colourful – I have to do what colour they are. This makes me happy.”

Jarlmarra Jiti: Birds with Wings

Thumbnail & header: Nyangulya Katie Nalgood, 'Finch Flying Bird', 2022 (detail), acrylic on canvas, 51x51cm.
Inset: Katie Nalgood by Amelia Blanco. Images courtesy Spinifex Hill Studio

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