Understanding Aboriginal Art

You’ve just got to love it!

Whether you are buying a piece of art for the first time or adding to an existing collection of works, the most important criteria is that you are passionate about the painting.

A frequent question that I am asked as an art consultant is “How do you know what painting to buy?” The simple answer and the complicated answer is – “Buy it because you love it”. If you are buying art as an investment there will be other criteria such as growth potential, the investment potential of particular artists, long and short term growth prospects etc etc etc.

However, if you don’t have an affinity with the painting, if it dosent speak to you… and if you can’t establish a conversation with the painting, then why would you want it hanging around, every day in your life?

A painting, well placed, will augment a living space more than any other object. Once you have lived with one beautiful Aboriginal painting, it is highly likely that you will want to fill your entire home with them!

Be careful, that’s exactly what happened to me!

What I am reading at the moment

The latest book in my shelves is “How Aborigines invented the idea of contemporary art” – writings on Aboriginal contemporary art edited and introduced by Ian McLean. The book traces the slow and ambiguous way in which the Australian art world, perceived Aboriginal art and its eventual place in the contemporary Australian artscape – why it was not immediately accepted, why it was so difficult to catagorize, what its artistic merit was, why it was valued from an anthropological rather than an artistic viewpoint, its place in the evolution of post-moderism, and much more. The anthology is a fascinating collection of essays, bringing together many unspoken voices and differing opinions – I am thoroughly enjoying it.

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    Fabrianne Nampitjinpa’s Bush Damper explodes on the canvas!

Fabrianne Nampitjinpa’s Bush Damper explodes on the canvas!

The extraordinary delicacy of Fabrianne Peterson Nampitjinpa’s “Wangunu” Bush Damper dreaming is seen in these working photos and final finished painting. Close up images capture just how painstakingly Fabrianne applies each individual dot onto the canvas, each time gauging its size and direction within the overall composition and all important “movement” of the piece. Note that the two tone effect is achieved by the amount of paint on the stick at any one time. Her choice of a monotone bright pink on the black canvas gives the painting a luminosity and sense of excitement and places it well and truly in the category of contemporary Aboriginal art. Working most days for up to 8 hours, the painting measuring 900 x 1500mm, took over three weeks for Fabrianne to complete.

Phyllis Thomas’s living art

Unlike most contemporary Aboriginal artists who use acrylic paint, Phyllis Thomas paints ochre on canvas.

Being a Kitja ochre artist, she paints Daiwal (Barramundi) Dreaming. In order to catch the fish, people throw leaves into the water to make the barramundi sleepy – they then rise to the surface and are easier to catch! The leaves turn the water a red colour – hence Phyllis has painted the scales of the fish using red ochre. The black canvas behind represents the women’s skin.

The image on the left shows the elder women of the Kitja community semi dressed and displaying the body paint of the Barramundi on the top half of their bodies, in anticipation of Women’s Business. I find the picture interested and yet somehow disturbing – did the women wear their bra’s to protect their own modesty or the sensibilities of the gathered crowd?

My People’s Dreaming

I have just read Max Dulumunmun Harrison’s book “My People’s Dreaming”.
Beautifully illustrated with photography by Peter McConchie, the book speaks about life, land, spirit and forgiveness. In a clear, concise and simple narrative the author describes concepts such as The Dreaming, songlines, the spirits, totems, skin names, ceremony and many more intricate aspects of Aboriginal lore.

Max takes the reader on a visual journey of his country in the Gulaga Mountains, near the Shoalhaven river, carefully describing the physical nature of his land and the emotional and spiritual impact it has on himself, his two grandsons who accompany us on the journey, and his people.

I really appreciated the intimate way that Max imparted his knowledge and throughout out the book, I had the sense that he was talking directly to me in the most personal and gentle manner. I hope you get the chance to read this book, as it has given me an insight which is invaluable in my understanding of Aboriginal culture.

From the Land to the canvas

On a recent visit to Alice Springs, Walpiri artist Judy Watson Napangardi arrived with her own stock of fresh bush tomatoes to eat. The bush tomato is one of the stories that Judy depicts in her paintings – see below.
Judy’s paintings are characterised by strong organic lines and circles and heavily textured overlays of sweet muted pastel tones or the more vibrant primary hues.
She also paints the stories of honey ants, digging sticks, snake vines and the hair-string belt, made famous by her contemporary Makinti Napanagka.She also paints the stories of honey ants, digging sticks, snake vines and the hair-string belt, made famous by her contemporary Makinti Napanagka.

You’ve just got to love it!

Whether you are buying a piece of art for the first time or are adding to an existing collection of works, the most important criteria is that you are passionate about the painting.

A frequent question that I am asked as an art consultant is “How do you know what painting to buy?” The simple answer and the complicated answer is – “Buy it because you love it”. If you are buying art as an investment there will be other criteria such as  growth potential, the  investment potential of particular artists, long and short term growth prospects etc etc etc.

However, if you don’t have an affinity with the painting, if it dosent speak to you… and if you can’t establish a conversation with the painting, then why would you want it hanging around, every day in your life?

A painting, well placed, will augment a living space more than any other object. Once you have lived with one beautiful Aboriginal painting, it is highly likely that you will want to fill your entire home with them!

Be careful, that’s exactly what happened to me!

Same subject, different interpretations by Nyuju Stumpy Brown

Visually commanding, this painting by Nyuju Stumpy Brown has such hot, raw energy and activity – the bold oval black ring pulsating out from the centre of the work. For me, it is so contemporary and a perfectly balanced example of her work. In it Stumpy is depicting the water holes and sacred ceremonial sites of her country.
Painted around the same time, this second painting, depicting three of the major watering holes has a beautiful organic quality -for me the shapes are a celebration of womanhood – curvaceous, nurturing, encompassing, continuous, bold and vibrant.

Sally Gabori unleashed

This extraordinary Sally Gabori painting is the latest in my stable of works – measuring 1500 x 2000mm it is an amazing example of Sally’s bold unfettered approach to shape, colour and contrast. Now in her late 80’s, Sally continues to consolidate a new language in contemporary Aboriginal iconography – challenging abstract non indigenous art and yet finding her historical expression and motivation in the world’s oldest living culture

A dynamic, dramatic depiction of an ancient story

Sally Gabori has taken the art world by storm since her introduction to paint and canvas in 2005, and is one of the most highly regarded and sought after contemporary Australian artists.

Her work has recently been exhibited at the prestigious Melbourne Art Fair 2012, the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair 2012 and the Korea International Art Fair 2012 (13 – 17 September). Awarded winner of the inaugural Gold Award for contemporary Australian painting earlier this year, Sally Gabori continues to receive accolades, having been named as finalist in both the Togart Contemporary Art Award 2012 and the Geelong Contemporary Art Prize 2012.

This latest acquisition came via Tim Melville Gallery in Auckland and is a stunning example of Sally’s dynamic, dramatic depiction of her country. It is extraordinary how she achieves such drama with such a minimal palette and large blocks of colour. Gentle pinks sit next to acid yellow and big bold black and white.