Nabarraya : Bark Paintings

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Lofty Nabarraya
Bark painting

Lofty Nabarraya was one of the best and most prolific Aboriginal bark painters from Oenpelli in Western Arnhem Land. He stuck true to his rock painting background and did not incorporate styles from other areas.

The aim of this article is to assist readers in identifying if their aboriginal bark painting is by Lofty Nabarraya by comparing examples of his work.

I collect paintings by Lofty Nabarraya. If you have a Lofty Nabarraya painting to sell please contact me


Lofty was born in 1926 in the Mann River area of Central Arnhem Land. He belonged to the Kunwinjku tribe. He started his painting career as a young man, painting in rock shelters at the headwaters of the Liverpool river, south of Maningrida. He is considered one of the best painters in the x-ray style of bark painting, which  the Oenpelli region is renowned for. A Lofty Nabarraya bark painting can be distinguished by the overall high quality and intensity and fineness of his parallel line hatching usually in red. He painted on Rectangular bark with either a red or Black background. He does not use crosshatching but like Dick Murramurra preferred fine parallel line work. He usually shows the internal organs and spine on his figures and animals which is the traditional way of showing that these are not just pictures but real beings.

Lofty did not attend a European school. He instead developed deep traditional knowledge and was a guardian to many Western Arnhem Land customary stories. Lofty was initiated to the full complement of western Arnhem Land ceremonies. He was widely recognised as a traditional leader. He also did much of his later work on paper,  but it lacked none of the intensity of his earlier works on bark. Some of the most desirable of these later works on Paper depict the major western Arnhem Land ceremonies.

He began commercially bark painting for the market at Oenpelli in 1969. Many of his bark painting  depict different animal species from western Arnhem Land. These include kangaroos, echidnas, crocodiles, birds, turtles and fish (Barramundi and catfish)

Lofty is particularly well known for his images of Yingarna and Ngalyod the rainbow serpent. His bark painting can capture the transformational powers of these beings.

Lofty was a married, with five daughters and three sons. Unfortunately none of his children followed in their fathers footsteps to take his place as a painter of exquisit barks. He painted consistently throughout his life. In his last years it was a slow work due to his  failing eyesight, caused by Trachoma.

Compared to other Arnhem land aboriginal artists  Lofty Nabarraya was prolific. In sheer number of works he is probably only second to Yirawala. The length of his career, sheer quantity of works but also the fact that Lofty’s paintings have a certain European aesthetic means he was and still is highly sort after by collectors. Some of his later works were done on Paper and card but these are not covered in this article

Lofty rock paintings of a kangaroo, emu, goats, and a horse and rider still survive in rock shelters at Kodwalehwaleh in Arnhem Land until the present day.

Lofty Nabarraya bark painting Images

The following bark painting and works on paper are not a complete list of works. They do however give a good feel for the variety and style of this artist
Lofty NadjamerrekLofty NadjamerrekLofty NadjamerrekLofty NadjamerrekLofty NabadayalLofty NabadayalLofty NabadayalLofty NabadayalLofty NabardayalLofty NabardayalLofty NabardayalLofty NabardayalLofty NabageyoLofty NabageyoLofty NabageyoLofty NabageyoLofty NabarrayalLofty NabarrayalLofty NabarrayalLofty NabarrayalLofty NabarrayaLofty NabarrayaLofty NabarrayaLofty NabarrayaNADJAMERREK NADJAMERREKNADJAMERREK

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