Boxer Milner Tjampitjin
65 Career Overall Rank
30 2013 Market Rank
- Born: 1935 - 2009
- Active: 1989
- Region: Kimberley, WA
- Community: Balgo Hills, Balgo Hills
- Outstation: Billiluna, Sturt Creek , Sturt Creek
- Language: Tjaru
Collectors have long recognised that the art from the country around Balgo Hills in remote Western Australia is amongst the most visually distinctive of all Aboriginal painting. The region has revealed some truly innovative and exciting artists since art materials were first supplied there in the mid 1980’s. None more so than Boxer Milner whose incredible sense of composition, innate ability as a colourist, and supreme confidence in the medium, has resulted in paintings that could quite easily be exhibited internationally without any cultural reference whatsoever.
While demand for his painting far outstrips supply in the primary market, his fortunes have been mixed at auction where, other than a single work which first appeared for sale in 1995 his works were unavailable until 2001. In that year only one sold of three offered and since that time his fortunes have been mixed. About as many sold as passed until 2007 when all three of those works offered entered his ten highest results.
Mossgreen established the artist’s current record in 2007, for what was undoubtedly the finest work by Boxer that has appeared at auction to date. The work, Purkitji 2003, from the Elizabeth Jones collection was featured on the front cover of its Australian Aboriginal Art catalogue an was offered with an estimate of $25,000-30,000 (Lot 18). Measuring 180 x 120 cm it sold after spirited bidding for $38,864, a figure more than $10,000 higher than the previous record set by Sotheby’s in 2004. Another work that sold in 2007 was created in 2003 and carried an estimate of $6,000-8,000. It sold in June at Joel Fine Art for $15,600 (Lot 48), and an unusually figurative work with plain white woomeras and boomerangs depicted in a field of coloured dotting sold in the Mossgreen sale for $10,950 (Lot 32). As a result of this favourable activity in 2007, Boxer’s clearance rate jumped by 4% with total sales for the year topping $64,000, his best ever to date. However this fine result was offset the following year when only three works of the eight offered sold, and this depressed his career clearance rate once more, this time from 54% to 51%, despite his average sale price increasing by almost $1,000. The favourable hike in average price was due in part to the success of Rainbow Serpent at Sturt Creek 1999, a 180 x 120 cm painting which sold for more than $10,000 above its high estimate in Sotheby's October sale (Lot No. 134). 2009 confused the picture further. The artist’s clearance rate improved to 56%, with seven of nine works offered finding buyers. The most impressive sales amongst these set his second and fifth highest results to date. 2010 brought the sale of Rainbow Dreaming near Purkitji (Sturt Creek) 1999 for $19,200, making a new sixth place record, with a clearance rate dipping a touch to 55%. 2011 brought two strong sales, creating new 3rd and 6th place results, for two beautifully geometric and yet lightly dotted works.
Boxer Milner has not tended to paint small pictures, preferring canvases larger than 60 x 90 cm. As a result he has a disproportionably high number of results in excess of $5,000 compared to his overall offerings. Fourteen of 38 successful sales have exceeded $10,000 with the majority of these sold by Sotheby’s who have sold 12 paintings for a total value of over $150,000 since they first appeared. Yet while they have averaged in excess of $10,000 per sale and Mosgreen have averaged $20,000 for each of their three successful offerings, Lawson~Menzies have averaged just $6,000 with five sold for a total of $30,480.
Overall, apart from a poor clearance rate, which is likely to improve steadily as good works come in to the market, Boxer’s paintings have performed well in the short time they have been offered at auction. His works have been exhibited widely in group shows since the early 1990’s and have been acquired by many public collections including the National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria. His two solo shows with Gabrielle Pizzi in Melbourne in 2000, and with Coo-ee Aboriginal Art in 2003 both sold out.
Not all of his works are popular however. Boxer began painting at the beginning of the 1990’s and works created prior to 1995 are definitely less accomplished than those that have followed. A good example of an early career work was The Artist’s Birthplace at Sturt Creek 1993, offered for sale by Sotheby’s in November 2005. While the unusual use of turquoise to highlight several tributaries and billabongs adjacent to the river system was a harbinger of things to come, the painting overall is not stylistically dissimilar to more conventional Balgo paintings by lesser artists of the time. It was offered with a presale estimate of just $2,000-4,000 and sold for $3,120 (Lot 402).
There is no doubt that Boxer Milner’s finest and most distinctive works were created between 1997 and 2005. Collectors should closely monitor the primary market to note both the quality of his current works and their prices. They now appear only rarely and it is likely that his best work is now behind him. It is therefore likely that in order to acquire a fine example at the right price at auction collectors will need to study his oeuvre carefully and be prepared to pay significantly more than was the case in the past for works of good size and quality.
While many of the oldest and most venerated men who began painting at Balgo Hills in the late 1980’s have passed away, leaving us to cherish their priceless legacy, one artist has emerged during the last decade who may come to be considered the most remarkable of them all. Boxer Milner, a tall, gentle old cattleman, in his early seventies, began painting quite minimal, small, rigid, paintings with linear shapes and large amounts of monochromatic dotting in the late 1980's. Growing in confidence as an artist through the 1990's his paintings veered further and further away from conventional Balgo aesthetics as he has gone on to create ever more exciting and challenging compositions. His work over the past decade, stands out as the very best the region has produced in paintings that offer an entirely different vision from the vivid depictions of sandy desert country, characteristic of the majority of Balgo artists.
Born at Milnga-Milnga, south-west of Billiluna near Sturt Creek c.1934, Boxer is one of a small number who come from the transition zone between the desert and the river country. This is Tjaru land, where the country and vegetation move from flat and featureless rolling spinifex plains to flood plains with enormous river channels and permanent water holes. Here the yearly cycles of flood and dry create swamps with abundant bird life, through which runs Purkitji, or Sturt Creek.
It is the intimate knowledge of all the facets of the river system, as a traditional owner of Purkitji, which informs the majority of Boxer’s paintings and his unique aesthetic. He re-presents this land in a way that is more than just physical - it is geographic, meteorological and mythical. His country is redolent with colours, landmarks, and a life force very different to that which exists only a short distance to the South, where the Great Sandy Desert begins. Paintings from this region have colours - blues and greens - that are not found elsewhere in Balgo art. In Boxer’s paintings, floodwaters are coloured by the white silt of the surrounding clay country. This is the ‘milk water’, which features in many of Boxer’s works, providing a geometric grid against which the rest of the landscape is represented, imposing carefully depicted boundaries of story over the land. His motifs refer to the miraculous transformations in the land and sky as new life seeps in to the flat lands; of the passage of water and the changing coloured tides; and the mythological drama associated with the sight and sound of thunder, lightning, rain, and brilliant rainbows. Colour changes represent the trees and vegetation, the red and white stones, the black soil, the myriad channels and tributaries, the hills and the contours that define the artist’s home. All this is contained within the dot and line work that surrounds the inescapable forms and patterns that he employs to portray Purkitji.
Boxer’s paintings are characterised by a masterful sense of composition and an innate ability to mix and marry colours on the canvas. Stylistically his paintings take the linear compositional elements developed by artists such as Lucy Yukenbarri and John Lee Tjakamarra, and elevate them to a level unparalleled by any other painter. His incredibly large hands paint with great control, assurance, and precision, using a two handed action that is an absolute expression of patience and integrity. Former art co-ordinator, Erica Izett, described his colour fields as ‘mesmerising and precisely articulated. Each dot is applied to the canvas twice over with a stick, so that it sits up, much like a frozen raindrop piercing water or dust‘. For Boxer, each brushstroke is measured and definite, with deliberate dots covering the surface of the canvas. While he may begin painting with primaries, the finished paintings consist of an incredible range of colours, which he mixes carefully. He juxtaposes reds and pinks or blues and lavenders, filling the entire canvas with dots. The colours created by Boxer are different to those of any other Balgo painter and at times can be totally unexpected. A self-taught colour mixer, Boxer shows an extraordinary sense of subtlety and beauty.
As he has advanced in age his work has stood out as the very best the region has produced. Tim Acker, now with the artist’s advocacy association, Desart, spent several years at Balgo Hills and knows Boxer and his art intimately. Despite having worked with Aboriginal artists across the far north and desert regions and with all of the great living Balgo artists, in his opinion ‘there is no artist I’ve ever met like Boxer. His work is amongst the most distinctive of all Aboriginal artists, anywhere. His inventiveness, the way he plays with form, structure, and shape is unique, as is his use of colour'. Acker likens watching Boxer paint to ‘watching a sculpture being carved from stone'. He approaches the canvas so patiently, assesses it so carefully, before recreating - dot by dot, stroke by stroke, in a thrilling variety of ways - the story of that flood-prone Purkitji country.
Crawford, A. May 2005. Balgo 2005. Melbourne. Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi.
Newstead, A. May 2003. Boxer Milner. Australia. Australian Art Review.
Sturt Creek (Purkitji) , Kitjintjarra, Kurru Kurru, Marduwarra, Wanarlapirri, Wirrimangaru
Rainbow Snakes, Small Bird , Water
Synthetic Polymer Paint on Linen and Canvas
Regional MapNote: This map is a representation and not accurate. Some sites are sacred and therefore not shown.
|Career Totals||AIAM100 Rank
Top 10 Artworks Sold at Auction
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|Title||Auction Date||Sale Price|
dimensions: 180 x 120 cm medium: Acrylic on linen
auction: Mossgreen Auctions, Melbourne Lot: 18
|2||Sturt Creek, 1999
dimensions: 180 x 120 cm medium: Synthetic polymer paint on linen
auction: Deutscher and Hackett, Melbourne Lot: 16
|3||Rainbow Serpent at Sturt Creek
dimensions: 180 x 120 cm medium: Synthetic polymer paint on linen
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Sydney Lot: 134
dimensions: 178.5 x 80.5 cm medium: Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
auction: Sotheby's Australia, Melbourne Lot: 106
|5||Tjirrwangu Naparlan 2000
dimensions: 150 x 75 cm medium: Synthetic polymer paint on linen
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne Lot: 254
|6||Purkitji (Diptych), 2002
dimensions: 150 x 75 cm medium: Synthetic polymer paint on linen each panel is
auction: Bonhams, Sydney Lot: 20
dimensions: 150.5 x 100.5 cm medium: Synthetic polymer paint on linen
auction: Bonhams, Sydney Lot: 32
dimensions: 150 x 100 cm medium: Synthetic polymer paint on linen
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne Lot: 55
dimensions: 150 x 100 cm medium: Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
auction: Bonhams, Sydney Lot: 11
dimensions: 180 x 120 cm medium: Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
auction: Bonhams, Sydney Lot: 142