Steps In Between

Celaine Charles ~ My journey as a writer ~ Author site:

Writing Inspiration Through Motion: Artist Dorothy Napangardi

Dorothy Napangardi working

Dorothy Napangardi


Inspiration comes from others. I am often inspired by a tree or a sunset, but I wonder if it’s really just the tree or an experience the tree reminds me of. Sunsets shine in colors representational of past times, events where I’ve felt something. Still these feelings are typically about someone. For me, inspiration must come from the interactions with others in our world. And if I want to write about heartfelt topics, then I need to seek experiences and people in order to feel emotions needed to share in my writing.

Time to seek an experience.

Once again, I toured the Seattle Art Museum to gain some inspiration. Five months ago, I was enamored by Andrew Wyeth, and today, Dorothy Napangardi (1950-2013). She was an Australian Aboriginal artist who infused movement into her pieces as illustrative of the landscape where she grew up, the western desert countryside. Her dotting technique became her story, and the stories of her grandfather’s Dreaming. She is gone now, sadly, but learning a little about her life brought me joy.

Napangardi Yuparli Bush Banana

Yuparli, by Dorothy Napangardi


Napangardi said, “When I paint, I think of those old days, as a happy little girl knowing my grandfather’s Dreaming.”

I looked up this capital “D” Dreaming and discovered it’s more than just a term. It’s how the Warlpiri people of the Tanami Desert describe their complex of religious beliefs; the Jukurrpa (Maggie Fletcher, visual art curator at the Adelaide Festival Centre). It’s a concept providing the rules for living morally and with the natural environment (Jeannie Herbert Nungarrayi, formerly a Warlpiri teacher at the Lajamanu School in the Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory). Jukurrpa provides for an entire way of life; past, present, and future. It’s a Central Australian Aboriginal term used to mean the laws and protocols set by the ancestral beings who created the world. People sometimes use the word Dreaming in place of Jukurrpa, (PAW Media,

As Maggie Fletcher states in reference to the term, Dreaming, “… an entire epistemology has been reduced to a single English word.” You must seek the articles from the websites I’ve posted below to fully gain exposure to this concept. Trust me, you will be glad you did.

napangardi inland sea

But the art! I could stare at the art for hours, swaying to the stories each piece seemed to weave together. The patterns danced as they spoke to me… whispering the inspiration I needed to write. I wondered what they whispered to the other admirers at the museum? I heard some complain their eyes couldn’t adjust to the perceived movements in the artwork, and the dizziness caused them to pull back. Yet, I’d never felt more grounded.

Napangardi Sandhills

Sandhills, by Dorothy Napangardi


My favorite piece entitled, Sandhills, 2008, is synthetic polymer paint on canvas. I suppose the colors jumped out at me in the beginning. Deep earth-rich mahogany woven amongst a darker black setting. They were soft and soothing, until bright white dots of color drew my eyes into a rush across the canvas. It started from the left, swooping across like racing wild mustangs. Now obviously, Napangardi’s art was never intended to portray white horses racing across the canvas, but that’s what I saw at first glance (founded on my Western eyes and weak knowledge of her art). I’ve since learned a great deal and have an even deeper admiration for her ability to capture the Dreaming of the sandhills in her Country with beautifully placed dots, creating rhythmic lines appearing to move from each angle I observed. There’s a deeper story there, one of Women Ancestors as they dance their way through spinifex and over sandhills.

I am not a professional artist, nor an art critic, and I don’t begin to pretend that I am. What I can share, is that Dorothy Napangardi’s artwork spoke to me, even if I couldn’t quite understand its language of ancient truths. This experience alone had me researching Dreaming and Jukurrpa.

interesting tree

Now, I’m wondering if the interesting tree that caught my eye this afternoon was saying more to me than hello. I wonder if the sunset possibly shared secrets from the Garden of Eden, had I only been taught how to listen. And although I will never meet Dorothy Napangardi, I feel a special connection to her through her art. A connection to who she was, thus feelings of compassion and awe in the history she cared for; now the source of my curiosity and drive to create.


Maybe the movement she painted into her work has found it’s way to my soul, and I can carry on some of the magic from her culture into motions I push forward in my work.

It was lovely to meet you, Dorothy Napangardi.

Dorothy Napangardi Mina Mina

Mina Mina, by Dorothy Napangardi


My Ekphrastic Poem inspired by Dorothy Napangardi

Landscape Dreaming

Grandfather’s Dreaming

from the beginning of time,

threads woven through the years,



from beneath the sands.

As once they emerged,

Ancestral Beings;



All that is seen, or walked upon,

or breathed into lungs,

every plant, animal, ounce of dirt,

every stream…


moves to the pulse below

the lands. The earth we share

is not for sale, but rather



And waiting for the day

in which their tale is retold,

revived and with

tumultuous force


to be free.

~Celaine Charles


Writing Advice: Meet Someone New

Learn about someone new today. You can search online, but it would be even better to get out of the house and go somewhere. A museum, a coffee shop, a library… preferable somewhere you can learn something new about someone or something in the world. Talk to the people around you or read up on your new topic of interest. Let yourself sink in to a deep hole and then write your way out. I find that threads from our past sometimes just need a tug to weave them into our stories today.

Works Cited:, 2017, Accessed 17 June 2018.

Nicholls, Christine J. “‘Dreamtime’ and ‘The Dreaming’ – an introduction.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 22 Jan. 2014, Accessed 17 June 2018. (SAMS) (pictures and information about Dorothy Napangardi from my visit to her exhibit at SAMS, June 16, 2018).

Image Links: (Napangardi, Bush Bananas) (learn new things)

My iPhone at the SAM’s Dorothy Napangardi Exhibit


Categories: Thoughts on writing...

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4 replies

  1. Really enjoyed reading this Celaine, I am a big fan of Dorothy Napangardi, her art is wonderful. Thank you for a great read. I love your poem.



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