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Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Artists

Art Resource is pleased to announce the expansion of its archive to include the work of Australian aboriginal artists. Neglected for years by earlier views of their work as ‘primitive’ or of ‘ethnographic interest only’, aboriginal artists began to emerge in the 1970’s and 80’s from tribal communities in Central Australia. Working with acrylic materials on canvas, artists such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri exhibited widely in Australia before gaining recognition in Europe.

Basically abstract, the paintings of Clifford Possum and others such as Billy Stockman, Paddy Carroll and Tim Payungka share a style unique to the Central Australian desert areas. Their "signature" is a complexity of color and texture developed entirely through layers of dots. Although abstract, the paintings are based on an ancient iconography or symbolic language which, nevertheless, can be read at a simple level: i.e. animal tracks, men hunting kangaroo, women searching for food. Themes are always based on the artists’ "dreamings" or creation myths, but events depicted are anchored to specific desert places, perhaps marked by large rock formations or the presence of certain flowers, honey ants, or other food sources. Another recurring subject is the abstract depiction of ancient ceremonies, "tingari" which are shown as linked concentric circles. In addition to the painters of Central Australia, artists from Northern Australia are represented by the paintings of Wandjuk Marika and Mithinari from Yirrkala, and Bargudubu from Oenpelli (near Kakadu National Park). Working with natural ochres on the surface of eucalyptus bark, these artists also explore the themes of ancient creation myths or "dreamings". Best described as epic poems complete with music and dance, the "dreamings" tell the story of the origin of the world and its inhabitants. Paintings illustrate these themes by depicting portions of the myth - the creation of the first children of the clan for example, or the coming into being of the first creatures such as the bush turkey or the goanna (a large lizard) that inhabit the surrounding wilderness.

Uta Uta Tjangala. Emu dreaming.
Acrylic on canvas.
Aboriginal art, 20th c.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Steele/Art Resource, NY