Otto PaErultja, A Narrative journey of the Dreamtime
Carl Strehlow: There are several major native-cat totemic sites to be found in the Mt Sonder area, but all of these are located in rugged country several miles distant from the mountain. One of these is PaErultja.once the home of the long deceased father of three well known Hermannsburg water colour artists originally christened Ruben, Otto and Edwin ; they later adopted the name of their fathers totemic site as their own family name.
The Stuart Art Centre from a transcript on Otto Pareroutla circa 1965. At the end of their wanderings and labours these supernatural personages either returned to the earth whence they had first sprung or changed into sacred rocks, trees or churungas. They sleep again in eternal sleep , as they had done at the beginning of time, But they retained their power to send down rain, and to fill the earth with plants and animals of their own totems, whenever they were summoned by magic increase rites, in which their human reincarnations intoned the secret verses that they themselves had first sung during their own labors of creation..
Ottos totem is the snake, he was conceived in the geographical area from which the snake ancestor is alleged to have emerged from the eternal sleep. The trees and the markings on same are representative of the snake and more or less put Ottos identity into the picture. The main or colorful part of the story is the totemic area of the country that Otto is portraying. The bumps along the ranges, which give the appearance sometimes of faces, are the totemic spirit people waiting in the dreamtime for future conceptions.
Ottos paintings are predominately images of Sacred Sites, they convey many different levels of meaning. This is the Dreamtime mythology. His development as an artist through some 30 years allows a rare insight into the secretive sacred world of the Aranda.
His paintings follow the tribal mythology of the Totemic ancestor spirits. The Sacred sites are where they entered the world and when they tired, where they left the world. Some of the Ancestor beings became constellations of stars in the sky and some became these sacred sites. These were the places where the tribe held totemic ceremonies. Secret sacred ceremonies for the initiated men only. The men who sung the verses were given the gift of reincarnation. Eternal life in the dreamtime. All the major sites were sung, commemorated in song and verse. These are what Otto painted, in a very complex unique way.
Every major art movement has an undiscovered genius, a different way of looking at the world. Often not appreciated and not understood Otto is the undiscovered genius of the aboriginal art world.
Different levels of meaning and visual communication
He would sometimes utilize hieroglyphics into his works. Not unlike these used by Tim Leura Tjapalijarri in this Papunya masterpiece.
Geoff Bardon writes about this picture : This painting shows a masterly control of its subject matter and great insight into Aboriginal truth. It is quite outside the range of the other Aboriginal artists and, I believe, is the most important of Tim Leuras works. The painting has a brilliance of observed plant structure with a suggestion of ethereal authenticity in its studied and mythical spirit beings.
What is seen in Ottos paintings depends on the sophistication of the eyes and minds of the observers.
Nomads of the Australian desert, the definitive work on Aboriginal mythology by Charles P Mountford also provides insights into the nature of Ottos works. A plate from Mountford : Body of perentie. A = legs; B = Body; C =arms. Ottos gums also appear with the similar characteristic features of legs, arms and body. This is the transformed body of Nintaka, a wandering totemic perentie Ancestor. Nintaka created the rain making ceremonies and many varieties of food. He traveled through the landscape, creating it as he went. His myths were major myths of the central desert. Many tribes shared parts of the story of this totemic creator spirit.
He was a young initiate
And in the space of 20 years he went from this..
But being a narrative there were many journeys along the way
Carl Strehlow : Some of the totemic ancestors moved only over short distances. Others traveled for hundreds of miles. In the latter event, the ownership of the myths and songs describing these travels was shared out among the various tribal groups through whose territories these mythical wanderings were believed to have taken place.
The Pulsating Mass, A totemic dreaming site
These paintings are in chronological order, note how the paintings are of the same place, a place possibly called ParErultja. They transform and change over the years. No Western landscape artist could view and portray the landscape like this, these are the works of an initiated man, who was also an artist, a true artist, and in the great tradition of Aboriginal Art he painted the reality of the dreamtime.
Emily Gap Alice Springs. Ceremonial site of the Aranda
Some interesting hieroglyphs to the top right and some definitely lizard looking rocks. In the bottom left corner are markings very similar to markings that tell totemic ancestors stories found at Emily gap.
photo taken at Emily Gap.
Tree, body of wounded snake man. This plate from Mountford of a gum with a blackened gnarly branch recounts an ancestral snake man story, the branch A being a digging stick thrown by a woman in the dreamtime.
Everything was created by the Ancestral beings and everything had a story.
Journeys and Adventures
These paintings portay some of the travels and adventures of the ancestral beings.
It is not hard to imagine a painting like this as a wandering totemic spirit, striding across the landscape, creating the world in its travel. Its the way he viewed the landscape, he has imbued the landscape with spirit. The Papunya Tula painters paint the events of the dreamtime, Otto paints the actuality of it. Different medium and a different style but a similar result, artworks denoting the creation time.
Ottos trees and rocks are transformed dreamtime ancestral beings. The tree is always the same tree, he would not view a tree as a tree but an ancestral totemic being spirit. The treatment of the development of the trees is a guide to the chronology of these paintings.
My hope is that I have given the reader some insight into viewing these paintings in a positive manner.
Some of the them are secret sacred in nature. I can see aspects in there that I will not discuss, again it depends on the knowledge of the viewer. Rex Batterbee famously asked Otto why he painted faces into his paintings and his reply was, because they are there in the landscape. Two Ancestral beings, transformed at the dawn of time. And so they wait in the eternal sleep, waiting for the intonations that will allow them to once again fill the earth with their totems.
While Boyd, Blackman and Brack were painting their versions of Australia, Otto, in the Western desert and from the banks of the Todd river painted a very different reality. It is the beauty of art that allows us to share in his unique tribal vision.
This work is put together for research only and to encourage a reappraisal of the work of this Aranda artist. Wenton Rubuntja is another who painted in this totemic expressionism, he too preferred to depict major totemic sites. My name is Bruce Taylor and if you wish to contact me you may do so, I welcome feedback.
This page has been written by Bruce Francis Taylor
Contact Bruce at: Email Me