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Aboriginal Art News

Aboriginal Art News is a free news resource to promote and encourage education of Australian Aboriginal art.

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  • ABORIGINAL ARTIST WINS BIG BULGARI PRIZE by on Thu, 17 Apr 2014 00:19:44 +1000:
    Anyone who bought a painting by Daniel Boyd (via the Ros Oxley9 Gallery) will have had their taste and wisdom confirmed by this week's announcement that he's taken out the third Bulgari Art Award worth $80,000, and delivered his stunning painting, '[i]Untitled[/i]
    ' 2014 into the AGNSW's permanent collection.

    Boyd – just 31 and not quite as old as the other 'mid-career' artists, Jon Cattapan and Michael Zavros who preceded him in winning the Bulgari – is a Kudjla/Gangalu man from North Queensland whose recent art has concentrated more on his Vanuatu ancestry. His Great-great Grandfather was black-birded from his Pentecost Island home in the 19th Century to work as a slave in the Queensland sugar plantations. 2013 was the 150th anniversary of this practice's commencement. And Boyd's winning work is based on an archival photo of women at an extraordinarily peaceful island waterfall, helping the artist to both come to terms with his ancestral landscape and to make an ironic point about Australia's brutal aggression in its unappealing past.

    So, how 'Aboriginal' is the work and the artist? “I can't avoid painting as an Aboriginal person”, Boyd explained simply at the Art Gallery of NSW, whose curators in conjunction with the Gallery's trustees and the Italian jewellers, Bulgari chose the artist to win. He (or she) then paints a work to go into the Gallery's collection – receiving $50,000 – and also gets $30,000 to visit Italy. There Boyd expects to meet the craftsmen who create Bulgari's premium jewellery; he also intends to examine aspects of the Enlightenment in Italy – the era which informed European colonialism, including its cognisance of slavery.

    Oddly, the Gallery sees Boyd's black and white works – a series he's been working on since 2009 – as using “dotting reminiscent of various historical and recent sources in both western and Aboriginal art”. I'm not sure the artist is appropriating desert dotting, though, with his use of a glue stick to create a mottled surface to his reconstructions of photos. In an animation in the most recent Asia Pacific Triennial, the dots referenced the stars that were so important to both his island ancestors and to Captain Cook's voyaging. They must also reference the pixels in photography - “a lens through which the world is both viewed and distorted. It's a kind of erasure of memory or history,” he says in the APT catalogue, “relating to the process that governments used through Australian history disregarding Aboriginal culture and systematically taking their culture away from them”.

    Interesting use of “they” and “them”.

    Closely involved in proceedings was Julie Ann Morrison, who uniquely holds the jobs of Managing Director of Bulgari in both Australia and the UK. She added to festivities at the AGNSW by announcing that the generous Award will continue for the next three years. But don't think of applying; the selection process is totally proactive.
  • PATRON/ COLLECTOR = THE FUTURE by on Tue, 15 Apr 2014 02:15:38 +1000:
    I had arranged to meet Pat Corrigan – Art Collector and Patron, especially of Aboriginal art, at the Art Gallery of NSW at 5 o'clock for a glass of wine and a chat. He was already there when I arrived (I was on time, he was early), but the Gallery was closing so we went looking elsewhere.

    We drove around for a bit until Pat settled on a café/bar in Woolloomooloo next to the harbor. Looking from the window where we sat was a simple open paved space with palm trees artfully planted like totems; a very dark open doorway on the building opposite faced diagonally into the area which had an odd absence of people. Long vertical shadows from the trees gave the scene a beautiful strangeness. I half expected to see Janet Laurence and Edward Hopper having a late lunch.

    My first question to Pat from a prepared list was, “Why Tommy Watson?” I had read in [i]New Beginnings[/i]
    , the book of his Aboriginal collection, that his first experience with Aboriginal art and painters was Watson. Knowing how and why he had responded to that particular painter would be the lead in, telling me what I needed to know: What IS that first emotional HIT of desert art that can make your hair stand on end?

    Pat had indeed experienced that rush of recognition, the half comprehending half not, to art of mystery, strangeness and mind numbing beauty, which is sometimes how we respond to good indigenous art. Although I did not have a specific answer, his enthusiasm had said it all anyway - I was sitting opposite a man whose mind is too fast tracked to be bothered with the pedantry of a list of queries.

    [i]New Beginnings[/i]
    is a staggering achievement, visually and intellectually. It delivers answers to Pat Corrigan’s impulse to collect, and an insight into his taste in art. What ensued over a glass of wine was a welter of conversation and laughter beyond the capability of the pen dangling limply from my hand. It showed where this man is coming from.

    Pat Corrigan AM is [i]The Patrone[/i]
    , The Philanthropist: the collector of paintings, sculpture, books, photography and some extremely interesting side-glances. Still a dreamer at 83, still adding to his collections, still gifting works to Galleries, Universities, Libraries. Still looking for the next adventure.

    The role of Patron in building civilizations can never be fully estimated. Without the Patron art, architecture, literature, music could not emerge fully into the light. Money is what gives the world the art and art is the load-stone of civilized cultures. Without the Medici’s, we wouldn’t have Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo, without the Catholic church we would not have some of the richest art and music in history, without Guell we wouldn’t have Gaudi, to name a skimpy few. Without Janet Holmes a Court and Pat Corrigan AM, and others, we wouldn’t have great and important collections of Aboriginal Art.

    Enthusiastic, witty, inventive, co-operative, multi-dimensional, full of beans, warm, engaging, attractive, above all, generous. Corrigan, in truth, epitomizes what we figuratively refer to as a Renaissance Man. Australia’s Lorenzo di Medici.

    As a self-made man in the classic tradition, his personal history has been forged on a fierce grid. He has re-booted his life again and again, always with the energy, inspiration and acumen to do so. Looking at him talking and laughing, one can see that his secret is enjoyment – life is exciting for him.

    He was born in Central China to English parents. As a small child he spent four years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Hong Kong with his mother, during WW 2 in the Pacific. The first career on leaving school began as a junior clerk at Unilever. At eighteen he borrowed $1,000 to start his own freight company, calling it Corrigan’s Express.

    The genius of this at such a young age and the success that followed, rewarded him the kind of wealth he needed to follow his dream of collecting art. A passion was born. The kid who had spent ‘time’ in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, with the love of beauty and the promise to himself untouched, was already a rich man when most people are still deciding what to do with their lives.

    Making friends with the artists he admired, Storrier, Olsen, Whiteley, Quilty, Cossington-Smith, Gascoigne, Janet Laurence, Pro Hart, John Coburn and many more, the collection and the relationships grew. He ‘discovered’ (his word), Australian photography, buying Bill Henson, Graham McCarter, Max Dupain, Greg Weight and so many more.

    Then came another re-booting - Aboriginal Art.

    From walking into the AGNSW and seeing a large Aboriginal art exhibition for the first time, and spotting Tommy Watson – a whole new passion erupted, sourcing his pictures from galleries and dealers rather than journeying into the outback. He has been to Alice Springs a couple of times and is friends with art suppliers to desert communities, Chapman and Bailey based there as well as in Sydney.

    He knows the painting he wants the moment he sees it. He trusts his ‘eye’. The long introspection and head scratching associated with buying art is not his thing. What does take time is his research into the artist and the art-work, acquainting himself with location, historical background and other information relevant to the picture.

    [i]New Beginnings – Classic Paintings from the Corrigan Collection of 21st Century Aboriginal Art[/i]
    . Written by Emily McCulloch Childs and Ross Gibson with a Preface by Margo Neale, cover painting by Wingu Tingima. The book is a must for scholars of Aboriginal art. Page after page of paintings from the Western Desert are breathtaking. Every response to the natural world is here, deliberately captivating your eye and your senses.

    Ross Gibson writes of Corrigan’s clear curatorial vision, and tight focus. He chooses works only from 2000, of new and emerging artists from desert areas. These ‘emerging’ artists only began painting in their 60’s and older. Many have died since the collection began.

    Professor of Contemporary Art, Ross Gibson: “Examined intently, these pictures are almost always particular engagements with one big idea: they tell of the necessity to understand notions of relationship, inter-dependency and systematic responsibility within a delicate environment.” These artists are “Creators of unprecedented mind devises”

    Artists of the Corrigan collection: Tommy Watson, Bill Whiskey, Naata Nungurrayi, Patji Presley, Dorothy Napangardi, George Tjungurrayi, Markinti Napanaangka, Jimmy Donegan, Wingu Tingima, Kitty Kantilla and many others.

    It’s interesting that so many artists begin working in what we call their doteage. But these senior painters are already accomplished in technigue, experienced in country and tradition, when they sit down with a brush. One can only speculate at the magic of this. The answer, as always, is embodied in Aboriginal law. Elders, women or men, are sufficiently ‘ready’ to make art. For example: ochre is sacred and cannot be used without the proper authority. The artist’s subject matter must have relevance to their country, and so on.

    When they work, sitting on the ground in circles with their mates, they are each facing their ‘dreaming’. They are not idly gossiping, but singing and chanting their stories. Nothing is without content or context. From the gathering and eating of food, to hunting, to ceremony to healing, dancing or painting. Everything is embodied in ancestral narrative, cultural continuity, land, law and history.

    The essays in [i]New Beginnings[/i]
    beg quoting. Ross Gibson again: “The energy and potency of ceremonial life shimmers, flicking like fire, rain, wind. The vibrating power of paint, the ancient practice enhancing spiritual power fueling creative work of every kind”.

    Emily McCulloch Childs writes: “As well as being maps of country they are tracts of moral philosophy suffused with natural sciences. They are not depictions of picturesque spaces. They are systems-diagrams for survival in a world close to collapse and they are surveys of enduring responsibility and fleeting opportunity.

    We see a system that shifts with time, with interaction, with a continuous attentiveness to every live mentality that comprises the country and takes instruction or nourishment or warning from it and takes care of it.”

    Any study of indigenous art, be it contemporary or thousands of years old, be it ochre or acrylic paint, the creators of these ‘mind’ canvases on paper or rock or body or board, are devices part of the ingenuous and genius ‘forever’, continuously fresh and evolving. Regardless of whether we understand them or not we are beyond fortunate to have been glimpses into this world of magic and beauty. (Paraphrased from [i]New Beginnings[/i]

    [i]“The whole Judeo-Christian view is that the body belongs to a fallen world and nature belongs to a fallen world, and I don’t accept any of that at all. I think the sacred is in this world, not in another world, and in the body and in nature,”[/i]

    David Malouf, The Good Weekend (1 March 2014)

    [b]To Pat Corrigan with love from me[/b]

    View artworks by[url=] Western Desert artists in our Gallery[/url]

    Purchase [url=] New Beginnings – Classic Paintings from the Corrigan Collection of 21st Century Aboriginal Art[/url]
  • TRAGIC CONFRONTATION IN THE DESERT by on Tue, 08 Apr 2014 12:47:32 +1000:
    Anyone reading the usually-reliable Nicolas Rothwell in [i]The Australian[/i]
    newspaper a couple of weekends ago ([i]The Review[/i]
    22/23 March) in a major essay entitled [i]'Culture War',[/i]
    would have come away convinced that an exhibition designed to reveal the extent of the 900 kilometre Ngintaka Tjukurpa/Songline as it meanders through the Western Desert was a serious breach of Indigenous cultural protocols, with a group of elderly Traditional Owners (TOs) of the Tjukurpa sorely distressed.

    Indeed, both the SA Museum - hosting the exhibition – and the SA Supreme Court took the article and the distress so seriously that it looked as though the show would be denied an opening, and conceivably then shut down by court order.

    At the end of a tense week, though, this threat was lifted – to the delight of the many artists, TOs, art coordinators and anthropologists who'd spent the past 3 years attempting to make sure that everyone at the seven art centres across the Anangu Pitjanjatjara and Yunkunytjatjara (APY) Lands was comfortable with the exposure of all the public elements of the Songline. Everyone, that is, apart from Yami Lester, the blind, Woomera atomic bomb-testing victim from Wallatinna. He'd let[i] The Australian[/i]
    know a year before that he wanted no part of this exposure – causing a check to be made of all the other communities on the Ngintaka's travels as to their continuing enthusiasm.

    And enthusiasm there ought to be for a project which has the potential to bring some of the complexities of the oldest surviving culture in the world in from the deserts to institutions like the SA Museum and, hopefully later, the National Museum in Canberra. It may be unfashionable in the Aboriginal art world to say this, but I believe many buyers of the apparently abstract canvases from tribal Australia do so in part from the belief that there's an unfathomable meaning that lifts them far above the drips and splashes of Western abstract art. They don't need to know all the details, but they do want the sense of the numinous that an exhibition like '[i]Ngintaka[/i]
    ' offers.

    Indeed, I think there should be a permanent institution in every capital city that offers such opportunities to locals and tourists alike. The art market will only gain from such insights. In this case, the story really matters more than the art. The Perentie Lizard Man, Wati Ngintaka is a Creator Being from the Dreamtime – ancient myth and living legend : “My father's grandfather is the Ngintaka” declares David Miller, “speaking for my father's Country near where the Ngintaka threw the seed away”. Miller is also Chairman of Ananguku Arts, the body that advises and brings comfort to the APY Land's seven art centres.

    For, as with so much Aboriginal lore, this is not just a moral story. It's a practical one relating to the water nomads needed to survive in the desert, the seeds people ate to thrive, and the trading of the best grindstones in order to make those seeds edible.

    I'll attempt a brief summary of the Ngintaka Story. The Perentie Lizard Man ([i]Varanus giganteus[/i]
    ) is living near Irrunytju, just over the border into WA today – and there's no decent sandstone for hundreds of miles to make a grindstone which will sift out all the chaff from the seed needed to make a scrumptious seedcake. And it's a man's job to supply his wife with a good grindstone. So, when he's hunting further east, and he hears on the wind the magical sound of a perfectly smooth grindstone, the Ngintaka knows what he must do. Find it, and steal it!

    Four hundred and fifty kilometres from home, he eventually tracks the sound down – at Wallatinna, home to distant relatives, the Nyintjiri or Black Lizards. Eventually, he gets to taste the perfect seedcake – which slips down without touching the sides. It's so good! Cunningly, the Ngintaka then injures his foot so he can't go out hunting with the men or gathering with the women – and swallows the grindstone so completely that when the Nyintjiri catch up with him time and time again during his journey home, they can't find it.

    That return journey is much more significant than the original hunt for the grindstone; for every stopping place seems to have been recorded and many of them involve sites for increase ceremonies - the Ngintaka's role having been to introduce various seeds and berries into the landscape by over-eating on them and then sicking them up. Part of a tribe's responsibility for Country today is to head out as Spring arrives to rub the rocks associated with each food source left behind by the Perentie.

    Back at the Songline's turning point in Wallatina, the giant Perentie has disguised his escape route by creating a rainstorm – and the Ngintaka Inma dance today involves a headdress of clouds – and has magically changed his size so his footprints aren't identifiable. But much of the detail has to be missing from the exhibition because of Yami Lester's resistance to showing any images of his Wallatinna part of the story. Lester's own 1993 aitobiography, on the other hand, had told the whole story without seeking permission from its more Westerly rights-holders.

    But these TOs can now tell the whole story – it's been in the public art domain since 1974, and the APY Lands Council approved a recording of the Inma in 1995. In fact, way back in 1940, Moanya, the scion of the Brady family who've been keenly involved in this project today, told anthropologist Charles Mountford the story, allowing the academic for the first time to recognise the essential link between Country and myth. The perspicacious Moanya, in return, recognised “the white man with his flour is killing us”! Unfortunately, Mountford couldn't resist publishing photos he'd taken of the Ngintaka sites along the Perentie's homeward route in his last work, [i]Nomads of the Australian Desert[/i]
    without permission, resulting in legal action by the TOs in 1976, which got the book banned.

    Greater care has been taken this time by ANU anthropologist Diana James, Ananguku CEO Liz Tregenza and the fifteen male TOs who've been backing the project – itself part of a bigger Songlines Project involving the National Museum.

    And while Nicolas Rothwell presented his case basically as one of the old men feeling that they were losing authority to both Desert women and 'White do-gooders'; going so far as to quote the saintly Hector Burton as saying, “These (Aboriginal) women doing this exhibition aren't our sisters. They're white not black. They have another skin. Go back to the other side of the sun. Don't interfere and take what's ours”. Accompanying this brutal statement of denial is a moving picture of four old grey (and white) beards sitting proprietorially in the long grass at Amata with the Musgrave Ranges in the background. They are the lawmen and artists, Mick Wikilyiri, Hector Burton, Willy Kaika Burton and Ray Ken.

    But, as Diana James pointed out to me, all these man seem to have come to their negative views only after Rothwell visited the community. “They changed their minds after a visit by Rothwell, who then wrote an article claiming the men at Tjala Arts had drawn a ‘line in the sand’ against the Songlines Project. Rothwell’s claim that Mick Wikilyiri is against the Ngintaka exhibition is particularly mystifying as Wikliyiri insisted on being recorded on film telling the Ngintaka story for the exhibition when the Songlines team travelled through Amata in July 2013. Wikilyiri’s wife Paniny is a senior traditional owner born at Arannga where Ngintaka dies. Her painting is in the exhibition and she supports the Ngintaka project”.

    And, as Wikilyiri's health has subsequently declined, the photograph of Mick in [i]The Australian[/i]
    cannot be a recent one. Both of the Burtons, James points out are Owners of the Caterpillar Dreaming, not the Ngintaka. And when a meeting was held as recently as 6 March at Amata, the Burtons and Ken had no serious cultural concerns about the project, raising only the ancient Biblical concern as to whether contributors had sold their birthright for a mess of pottage.

    But all this name-calling by one side has produced equally vituperative responses by the other. In a scorching statement on the eve of the project finally being realised, Yami Lester described the Nigintaka Project as unethical and a "Trojan horse into forbidden ground". Michael Williams, “who has great authority on the APY lands”, according to [i]The Australian[/i]
    , supported him, saying Mr Lester is "fighting for his land and Tjukurpa (Dreaming)".

    And the response by the Project's TOs: “Yami Lester may have some authority to speak for a small area around Wallatinna. Michael Williams may have a link through family, but his birthplace is elsewhere and we have told him in a previous meeting at Amata in 2012 that he has limited knowledge of the Ngintaka Tjukurpa”.Take that!

    Despite this, the Council of the SA Museum had to take a legal letter on behalf of a body calling itself the APY Council of Elders seriously – postponing the opening until just two and a half hours before it was due to happen. As did the SA courts, which placed a temporary injunction on the exhibition's videos and opening Inma – though too late for that; the dance had triumphantly taken place.

    Over the following week the Council of Elders was discredited as a responsible body compared to the APY Land Council, particularly, its Law and Culture sub-committee. And the concerns of the Council of Elders members regarding the videos were address by letting them see them. “By Friday, we were vindicated”, Diana James exulted.

    We have to see these events in the context of various other exhibitions, starting with the unfortunate[i] 'Icons of the Desert' [/i]
    in America, where a variety of non-Indigenous-sourced interpretations were placed on early Papunya boards, and Alison Anderson (Rothwell's partner), then the NT Minister responsible, declared that “white people are stealing our culture because they have none of their own”. Subsequently, the NGV with '[i]Tjukurrtjanu[/i]
    ', covering the same art history, and [i]'Ngurru Kuju Walyja'[/i]
    (the great Canning Stock Route show at the NMA) have taken inordinate care over their interpretations of artworks.

    Which is exactly what was attempted with Ngintaka – and its partner project, the Seven Sisters Songline exhibition, which has been postponed until 2017 because its extensive coverage of the country from the Martu in the far West, across the deserts into the lower NT, requires much travelling, filling in of gaps now uninhabited, and diplomacy.

    But how important it is to get as many levels of these stories as is appropriate out into the wider world. So I questioned Diana James about the wacky morality of an oft-repeated legend that begins with greed, is followed by theft and ends with the 'perfect' grindstone being smashed and its abductor killed; was this something like white Australia's Gallipoli legend with its capacity to extract national character from death and defeat? “I see so many parallels to the Hindu and Greek gods”, she responded; “humans writ large, naughty and arrogant. But also essential for bringing humanity rain and seeds; and the Ngintaka was such a clever man that his opponents could never find where he had hidden their grindstone”.

    In conclusion, I find Nicolas Rothwell's bald assertion that the APY women are “ritually subservient to the men” - and therefore should bow to their will in such matters as the Ngintaka Tjukurpa – so powerfully denied by the Story itself. For, as archaeologist Mike Smith points out in the exhibition catalogue, the clear message behind the narrative is that APY men and women were inter-dependent – the men needed to develop both the technology and the trade routes to supply the grindstones for the women to use to produce the necessary sustenance from the seeds they'd gathered.

    This scientific line in the sand brought the recent ABC TV series [i]'First Footsteps[/i]
    ' back to mind. That series of encounters between the Tjukurpa of variousTraditional Owners and the science of archaeologists and anthropologists is such an effective way forward in our fuller appreciation of the First Australians.

    [b]AAD Note:[/b]

    Another very good article about this was written by Bob Gosford, who has been a writer at Crikey since 2006, and who also began [i]The Northern Myth[/i]
    blog (at Crikey) in 2008. You can read his article here [url=]Ngintaka’s long road to Adelaide[/url]
  • TIWI PANTO by on Wed, 02 Apr 2014 10:12:58 +1000:
    It's taken a while to get all of its act together, but the world's first Tiwi Island pantomime is off and touring the country currently. [i]'Wulamanayuwi and the Seven Pamanui'[/i]
    – a Melville Island-mouthful version of[i] Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs[/i]
    – comes complete with a fully Tiwi-designed set and suite of puppets by such well-known names as Raelene Kerinauia and Pedro Wonaemirri, and somewhat brief but colourful dive into Tiwi mythology including their Purrukupali foundation legend and the Kulama Yam ceremony.

    Did these myths really get into the heads of the packed sub-teen audience at Parramatta which clearly loved the wilder elements in this show (toured by Performing Lines) but hadn't, according to my immediate neighbours, even been prepared by their teachers to know where the Tiwi Islands actually were? It could have been a Maori show for all they knew!

    And that after a four and a half year preparation period which began with Tiwi expat, Jason De Santis being invited by Playwriting Australia to take part in a 3-day intensive workshop in mid-2009 to develop the script structure, themes, characters and style. Then a creative development was held in Darwin in 2010 which focused on the creation of a strong spoken language, experimentation with song and rhyme, and the incorporation of the Tiwi language. Initial concepts for the visual world through puppets and dance were also explored.

    The first public reading of the play was presented to the Milikapiti Community on Melville Island, Jason De Santis’ homeland. As the keepers of the Dreaming, it was culturally appropriate to hold the first public presentation for the Elders there. Following their approval, the set and puppets were created by artists from Milikapiti's Jilamara Arts Centre and original music was composed. After two community showings, [i]Wulamanayuwi and the Seven Pamanui[/i]
    premiered at Adelaide's COME OUT Festival in March 2011 and was remounted for the Darwin Festival in August 2011. Since then it has been presented at the Canberra Theatre Centre, the Castlemaine Festival and the Sydney Opera House.

    Jason De Santis also features as both narrator and Japarra, the Evil Spirit of the Water – a character capable of the camp melodrama worthy of the Tiwi Sistagirls who featured in Bindi Coles' breakthrough photo-essay. But he's only following orders from the even eviler Jirrikalala – a classic step-mother figure (though in the Tiwi tradition, she's a 3rd wife for our heroine, Wulumanayuwi's Dad) – played by Natasha Wanganeen, who's come a long way since her debut in the [i]Rabbit Proof Fence[/i]

    Fortunately, all this evil is counter-balanced by a really good and magic white cockatoo – who may or may not be the spirit of Wulamanyuwi's dead Mum – who pops up whenever Jirrikalala's team think they've managed to wipe her out, and who wins the terminal battle at the end on board a scooter!

    En route, the Seven Brother/Dwarf puppets have been cruelly drowned and Wulamanyuwi has been blamed for their loss, and exiled from the only community she knows. Out in the boondocks, a little bit of Indigenous lore is offered as she makes the almost-fatal mistake of tucking into her totemic animal. And who should be on hand to save her but the man to whom she's been promised as a bride by her old-fashioned Dad; not an old fuddy-duddy as she'd feared but a cool, pop-song singing dude.

    It was intriguing how often I got Indigenous references that the kids missed; but then they clearly loved much of the crasser pantomimicry that I could have done with just a little less of. In other words, all those preparations and the imported direction of Belvoir Theatre's Eamon Flack have welded together a cross-cultural and tumultuously lively show for teens of all ages.

    And it tours widely until the end of June......
    Bathurst Memorial Centre: 2 April 2014
    Orange Civic Centre: 4-5 April 2014
    Northern Rivers Performing Arts, Lismore: 8-9 April 2014
    Mandurah Performing Arts Centre: 1-2 May 2014
    Nautilus Theatre, Port Lincoln: 6 May 2014
    Middleback Theatre, Whyalla: 9 May 2014
    Chaffey Theatre, Renmark: 13 May 2014
    Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre, Mount Gambier: 16 May 2014
    Portland Art Centre: 20 May 2014
    Plenty Ranges Arts & Convention Centre: 23 May 2014
    Esso BHP Biliton Wellington Entertainment Centre, Sale: 27 May 2014
    Memorial Hall, Healesville: 29 May 2014
    Burrinja Cultural Centre, Upwey, Melbourne: 31 May 2014
    Wagga Wagga Civic Centre: 4 June 2014
    Albury Entertainment Centre: 6 June 2014
    West Gippsland Arts Centre: 10 June 2014
    Frankston Arts Centre: 12 June 2014
    Kingston Arts Centre: 14 June 2014
    Cairns Contemporary Arts Centre: 19-20 June 2014
    Mackay Entertainment Centre: 24 June 2014
    Queensland Performing Arts Centre: 26-29 June 2014

    PS. I note a substantial exhibition of Tiwi art at Art Mob Gallery in Hobart opening today and running until 22 April, in which several Milikapiti artists including Pedro Wonaemirri are featured. See [url=]"Tiwi Tradition" at Art Mob[/url]
  • Painting is the Skin of the World by on Mon, 31 Mar 2014 17:36:04 +1000:
    “Painting is the Skin of the World.”
    [b]Robert Motherwell[/b]

    [b]Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula said:[/b]

    “When you sit down without a painting, you are lonely”.

    These simple words from two giants of art speak volumes of what painting meant to them. Motherwell, a New York Abstract Expressionist from the sixties. Turkey Tolson Tjapaltjarri, a Papunya artist working in the seventies. Men, from similar times but different galaxies, both expressing the joy of being painters, the psychological power of allowing creativity to work, of living in societies conducive to creativity, safe unthreatening environments - painting whatever the odds - New York or Papunya!

    The era of Abstract Expressionism has always been a favorite - sensual and pleasurable in ways that pure Pop art never was. Motherwell, Rauchenberg, Morris Louis, Rothko are exciting artists whose paintings, some of which I saw when I was in New York in 1969, continue to thrill.

    Linking American and Aboriginal artists was obvious. And a bolt of lightning. That Rover Thomas and Robert Motherwell preferred the same palette of natural colours: ochre, black, white, yellow, blue, as well as the wonderful spaciousness of colour-field, brought much of it home to me.

    Robert Hughes puts the words ‘Utopia’ and ‘Abstraction’ together as though they were brothers. These connections are interesting. There can surely be no connection between the name of a small Aboriginal settlement in the Australian desert with the concept of abstraction in the context of art in America, or elsewhere. Is abstract art utopian? Is Aboriginal art abstract?

    But the huge success of contemporary indigenous art, as it has appeared out of Utopia, is due, in great part, to a style of ‘abstraction’ – or Abstract Expressionism, a recognizably European art form, embraced decade after decade and arguably one of the most enduring art movements since the Baroque.

    The dichotomy lies in that Aboriginal art can never be classified as a ‘movement’. There is urban art, or desert art, but these are not labels. This art comes from a realm where there are no boundaries or expectations. Rules, when they exist, are subtle.

    This is the realm where things cannot be accounted for mentally, but are a state of mind. This is the world of ‘feeling’ where art, like poetry, originates. The sensuality of this lies in its freedom, the lack of restraint, the existential carelessness, the magic liberty.

    Morris Louis, from that era, painted in ways very like Aboriginal artists. He used a technique of dyeing the canvas, sealing it against everything but the action of colour. This produced a surface that could be both impersonal and decorative, exciting and interesting but offering nothing in particular.

    As with Aboriginal art, the intended brush stroke or drawing of outline or subject, is out and nothing but colour is then applied to the canvas. Louis’s method of pleating then flooding the folds with paint, scrubbing and blotting, is similar to what we see in the works of many desert painters. You always felt in his layering of stripes, one atop the other, that he was disguising something. You wondered what was beneath the stripes – it’s stylistically catchy, and very much part of the appeal. The stripes employed by Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Minnie Pwerle and others, are similar to Morris Louis’s technique of pleating colour into organic vertical lines.

    Kenneth Noland too simplified patterns, presenting them as racks of colour and nothing more. Colour, not drawing, always being the focus. Abstract Expressionism, sometimes described as ‘a pure uncluttered hedonism for the eye’ is openly decorative, anxiety-free, socially indifferent, delectable and inoffensive. This is not to say that it lacks intelligence or seriousness. This, like Aboriginal art, too, is rigorously intelligent, never a mere evocation of agreeable feelings. Walk into a large exhibition of Indigenous art and expect to be mentally and emotionally altered.

    By not exploring the domain of questioning or challenging or being ambiguous. by painting instinctively, (as one should live life,) how do you fare? If the only rules are in respect of country and the keeping of secrets, then within these dictates, past those fundamentals of traditional law, you have art that is essentially anarchic. There is great power in this. The notion of ‘freedom’ was never more evident than in the art associated with Abstract Expressionism.

    Rover Thomas – is a masculine ‘narrative’ painter who paints about violent and destructive events such as massacres and other serious disputes between blacks and whites. But there are no tears, no rages against injustice. His sublime colour-field pictures are coded messages of former tragedies and landscape. The only clues are in the darkness of his palette, and the deep, somber, sense of mystery and unease he imparts.

    Rover Thomas once famously compared himself to Rothko. There is much discussion to be held around this endearing story. Thomas, who does possess the magnetism of Rothko, was referring to technique or style. But there was more to this statement than that.

    Once when I was in a art museum in New York (Metropolitan, I think), I spent a very long time looking at Rothko (whose style was actually very similar to Kuddiji Kngwarreye, Emily's brother) - it was the kind of lost time one indulges in art galleries in foreign cities. I was mesmerized by dozens of large canvases, obviously a very significant collection. I had no idea what they meant but they worked their way into me and remain like tattoos on my brain.

    Tearing myself away I went into the next room, which was filled with Rembrandts. I know I go on, but this small step from one from one gallery to another was revelatory. The Remmies (as Brett called them) were singing off the walls. I was looking at paintings I knew by heart but had never before seen in the flesh. This is the wonder and gift of the great art institutions of the world.

    But the incredible thing was that the Rothkos and the Rembrandts were equal in power. This is the moment of acknowledgement of mystery and magic. If you had asked me why these two giants from opposite ends of the spectrum could equally move me, I would not know the answer.

    Like falling in love. Like any of the unfathomable events in life, there is no answer.

    The centuries old practice of detached, blissful, painting sessions in the desert, chanting, singing, telling stories of country and daubing colour, must have experienced a volcanic shock when the outside world arrived and the art was suddenly being paid for. When many of these artists, like Turkey Tolson or Emily Kngwarreye, were struggling with speaking English, how the hell did they deal with the pressure of hungry dealers? The numbers of ‘patrons’ virtually waiting on their doorsteps?

    What has been the psychological impact of sophisticated white men, pockets stuffed with cash and plenty to say but possibly little real understanding with what they were dealing with, driving in then leaving with 4xdrives stacked with art. Monetary value, for what was hitherto used for traditional communal, sacred or ceremonial purposes, of little consequence to outsiders, was not what creativity was all about. It must have blown up a storm of dust when art was winning international prizes, being shown in Biennales and collected by famous people all over the world.

    How has the influx of wealth changed the delicate social structures of outback communities like Utopia?

    So many of these desert artists are elderly, with health and eye-sight problems. One can only hope they are still enjoying the painting life – chanting, singing, telling stories of country, and happily daubing colour.
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