NOTES ON AUSTRALIA – ABORIGINAL ART

Beiing, 6 October 2013

My last post ended with us driving up King’s Highway towards Canberra. The only reason we were going there was to visit a couple of museums to look at their collections of indigenous art. There’s been a lot of brouhaha over the last thirty years about the new indigenous, aboriginal art coming out of Australia and I was curious to see what I would find in situ. I’ll say straight out that on the basis of what I’d seen before coming to Australia I was not a huge fan of indigenous Australian art. But I was willing to be persuaded.

Our first port of call on this voyage of discovery was the New South Wales Gallery of Art in Sydney, one of those Worthy Civic Buildings which I referred to in my first Australian post. We started by visiting the exhibition Sydney Moderns, whose poster picture was this painting of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (which I had a few things to say about in that same post).

gallery of nsw-harbour bridge

Nice, but really this was just an outpost of European art. So then, after a quick salad on the terrace of the Gallery’s cafeteria, we headed for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Art collection.

And I found myself having the same problem I’ve always had with aboriginal art.

It’s the dot thing. The dense array of dots and lines which make up the paintings leave me cold. It’s just … too much. My eyes wander over all those dots, and wavy lines, and circles, and what-have-you, and … that’s it, they just wander, and eventually slide off the painting. My appreciation is not helped by the often dull pigments which are used. Here’s a number of this type of painting, from the 1970s onwards (when it seems that this style burst onto the art scene) in the National Gallery’s collection in Canberra.

Woman’s fire Dreaming, by David Corby Tjapaltjarri (1971):

national gallery-painting-2a

Untitled, by Timmy Payungka Tjapangarti (1989):

national gallery-painting-9

Wirrpi (Near Lake Macdonald), by Yala Yala Gibbs Tjungarrayi (1997):

national gallery-painting-8

Tupun Nguranguru, by Harry Brown and others (2012):

national gallery-painting-10

I can’t even get comfort out of the paintings’ spiritual content. There is a lot of talk of these paintings representing the spiritual dreamings of the artist, and we are invited to see in all those dots, wavy lines, and geometrical figures, dreams of rivers, hills, rocks, pools, and other elements of the landscape, or to see real or imagined animals, spirits, or ancestors, the whole sometimes representing tribal myths. But this is not my spiritual language. Give me a Virgin Mary and some saints and I can “read” the spiritual message. Aboriginal spirituality, alas, is a closed book for me, and will always be.

But all is not lost for me. There is Rover Thomas.

The first time I came across Thomas was a few years ago in Paris. My wife and I were there on our way to somewhere else, but we took a few days off to visit some new things which had been sprung up in the city since our last visit. One of these was the new Musée du Quai Branly, a museum which focuses on indigenous art, cultures and civilizations from all over the world (as one might guess, the core of the collection is a couple of colonial-era collections, but we’ll skip over that). Great museum, by the way, well worth a visit.

Musee du quai branly

The museum has a section on aboriginal art from Australia. To be honest, it is not the most interesting part of the collection. But it did have a painting by Rover Thomas, River Ord, River Bow, River Denham.

Now that is a style which I can relate to! Clean, simple lines, on which my eyes can fasten and linger.

This is another Rover Thomas in the National Gallery in Canberra, Ruby Plains killing 1 (1990)

artist-rover-thomas-4

One of the things I learned in Australia is that Thomas is part of a group of like-minded painters from the Kimberley region. Here are a couple of paintings by Paddy Jampin Jaminji.

artist-paddy-jampin-jaminji-1

artist-paddy-jampin-jaminji-2

In passing, I should say that the first of Thomas’s painting, a bird’s-eye view of rivers in a landscape, brought a memory back to the surface, of a visit which my wife and I made a few years ago (maybe the same summer we visited the Musée du Quai Branly) to the Tate Modern in London. They were showing a painting from their collection by the Australian painter Fred Williams. I show it here.

Dry Creek Bed, Werribee Gorge I 1977 by Fred Williams 1927-1982

Same idea, different approach.

Anyway, coming back to aboriginal art, in Sydney my wife and I came across another style of aboriginal art which we found quite congenial. These are paintings on bark. Here are a couple of examples from another museum we visited in Sydney, the Museum of Contemporary Art, from the period 1960-80.

aboriginal art-sydney 023

aboriginal art-sydney 025

So like I say, there is hope for me. I just have to ignore the dot paintings, even though they seem to dominate the market.

By the way, in Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, we stumbled across these wonderful objects:

aboriginal art-sydney 002

These are made by an aboriginal group called the Tjanpi Desert Weavers. Here’s a couple of photos of the artists making these objects.

aboriginal art-sydney 010

aboriginal art-sydney 013

aboriginal art-sydney 016

aboriginal art-sydney 019

Those last pictures of the desert part of Australia move me to finish with this coda. During my web surfing for this post, I discovered another school of aboriginal painting, from the 1950s, the so-called Hermannsburg School. The primary artist from this school was Albert Namatjira. Here is what seems to be a typical example of his style:

artist-albert-namatjira

When I looked at this and other of Namatjira paintings – watercolours, actually, for the most part – I had a shock of recognition. My parents had a small painting in exactly this style! I have already mentioned that my father was really into genealogy. As part of his work, he discovered that a long-distant cousin had emigrated to Australia during the Gold Rush. Not from my father’s English side of the family, by the way, but from the French side! He then tracked down some of the man’s descendants, got into correspondence with them, and finally, when he had retired, visited Australia with my mother to meet them. One of them gave him the painting, which she had painted (she said; who knows, though, maybe it was an Albert Namatjira!)

____________

painting Sydney Harbour Bridge: http://media2.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/thumbnails/uploads/rotator_images/SYDMOD_980x400_SID50819.jpg.770x314_q85_crop.jpg
“Woman’s fire Dreaming”: http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/IMAGES/LRG/167747.jpg
“Untitled”: http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/IMAGES/LRG/181491.jpg
“Wirrpi (Near Lake Macdonald)”: http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/IMAGES/LRG/227909.jpg
“Tupun Nguranguru” : http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/IMAGES/LRG/223919.jpg
Musee du quai Branly: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/archive/f/f2/20100310000626!Musee_du_quai_Branly_exterieur.jpg
“River Ord, River Bow, River Denham”: http://richardtulloch.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/rover-thomas.jpg
“Ruby Plains killing 1”: http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/IMAGES/LRG/147688.jpg
Paddy Jampin Jaminji-1: http://img.aasd.com.au/30313805.jpg
Paddy Jampin Jaminji-2: http://img.aasd.com.au/05502896.jpg
Fred Williams: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/images/work/T/T12/T12271_9.jpg
Bark paintings: my pictures
Tjanpi Desert Weavers: my pictures
Albert Namatjira: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/16/Namatjira_Landscape.jpg

Published by

Abellio

I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. http://ipaintingsforsale.com/UploadPic/Gustav Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

3 thoughts on “NOTES ON AUSTRALIA – ABORIGINAL ART”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.