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Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
, 2009

by Guy Maestri

oil on linen (frame: 203.0 cm x 172.4 cm, support: 197.5 x 167.0)

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (1970–2017), a man of the Gumatj clan of north east Arnhem Land, was born blind but learned to play guitar, keyboard, drums and didgeridoo as a child. He performed with Yothu Yindi from 1985 to 1992, when he formed the Saltwater Band. Gurrumul shot to prominence in 2008 with the release of his debut album Gurrumul, which was nominated for four ARIAs and won two. Critics raved about his unearthly voice, his successful fusion of music styles and his authentic Aboriginal sound and stories. The Age critic called his release, Rrakala (2011), ‘the definitive Australian folk record of our times’; in a cover article Rolling Stone called him ‘Australia’s most important voice’. Gurrumul sang about Gumatj stories in Yolngu, but his song ‘Gurrumul History’ was in English, the better to spread his story. ‘I like singing about the story properly, singing all the right names of land, and ancestors, because I have to give out the right story. It is like a celebration,’ he once said.

Guy Maestri saw Gurrumul perform in Sydney on New Year’s Eve 2008 and arranged a hasty sitting with the musician soon after. He worked on the painting for a month, listening to Gurrumul’s music as he built layer upon layer. The portrait won the Archibald Prize for 2009.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2011
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2011.50