This article was inspired by a comment made by a customer recently…

“ When I think of Aboriginal Painting I think of rich earth colours made from traditional methods from the earth and painting in the dot technique. The indigenous work in your gallery is not what I believe to be authentic Aboriginal art”

I really didn’t know how to respond other than saying that the work in the gallery by our indigenous artists is considered contemporary Indigenous art but is still informed by their Elder’s stories and traditional mark making and symbols passed down through generations. The only real difference was the art materials, substrates ( what the art is painted on) and colour choices.

We are not an authority on Aboriginal Art and we rely heavily on the discussions with our artists so we can learn more about their art practice to pass onto interested customers.

It is important to us to learn as much as we can so we delved a little further into indigenous art history, this is a little of what we discovered.

Indigenous artwork is based on Aboriginal culture and storytelling and gives us a glimpse into the wisdom of Australia’s first inhabitants. Within communities, indigenous art was used to help pass the elder’s knowledge, and values, as well as their historical and family events down through the generations. The Dreamtime (or Tingari or Jukurrpa depending upon the local language) for the Aboriginal People was the translation of the creation of time, and is shared in many artworks. As these stories hold a sacred nature to the communities, the Indigenous artists are often required to request permission to paint about them, and are not allowed to paint a story that does not belong to their family.

Aboriginal Dot Paintings

Although an internationally recognized style, the uninitiated would think that the only indigenous art style is dot paintings, but in fact this style is relatively recent in the Aboriginal’s history, and one of many styles. The Papunya Tula art movement started in the 1970’s when Geoffrey Badon helped those local communities to share their stories with the wider community. However the artists were criticized for sharing too much of their revered and sacred heritage by their peers. They then began to obscure their symbols, stories and knowledge with dots, both bold and delicate in size. So although there are symbols we can recognize and understand, each artwork can also contain hidden meanings to the local indigenous community. Despite the fact that the dots were put there to mask the sacred meanings they can also give a vivacity and movement to the paintings.

Australian Indigenous Art differs in style from community to community and the symbols can vary significantly in meaning. A region may become recognized for a certain style of artwork but are not limited to it, and as Aboriginal Art expands in the 21st century we are seeing more and more styles evolve. This diversity makes this genre an exciting space to watch.

A popular style is aerial view painting, as if the artist was hovering over the land and depicts the landscape markings or metaphysical shapes. To give you an idea it’s like looking out of a plane window the landscape below is just colour and shapes Roads, rivers and tracks tell a story as the lines weave through the shapes and colours. Don’t you think it is fascinating to think that this style which has been used for centuries by the Aboriginal people was used by artists who had never been up in an aeroplane. It is almost like the they could see the landscape through the eyes of the birdlife. This style truely illustrates the artists connection with the country in which they lived.

Colour in Indigenous Artwork

Colour has also developed over time in all the styles. Ochre was initially used with the natural colours of brown, red, pink, yellow, white, blue, and charcoal for black. Many communities started off with the traditional colours but then with the introduction of the acrylic paints, moved onto a broader and sometimes much more vivid, colourful palette.

The introduction of acrylic paint also allowed the indigenous artist the ability to produce art for commercial purposes as the traditional pigments would crack when artwork was rolled.

Local Indigenous Artist Alicia Close uses a varied colour palette in her paintings that depict her connection with the Quandamooka region. We sat down with Alicia to have a chat
about her art practice and her current work, read about it here.