Australian Aboriginal Art

Australian Aborigines have been employing the careful arrangement of soils and sands of different textures and colours to create pictures whose patterns and symbolism relate to the stories and myths of the Australian Aboriginal's ancestral tribal and cultural history - their Dreamtime. The Dreamtime is the sacred world of the tribe's ancestral spirits whom the Aboriginals regard as the creators of all living things.

Today there are many indigenous Aboriginal artists who work with convential western materials such as acrylics, canvas or board to create beautiful visual effects, at the cutting edge of modern art, but who have synthesised old traditional imagery to conventional techniques.

Australian Aborigines have survived for so many thousands of years, often in quite challenging and inhospitable conditions, and their huge success was predominantly due to the indigenous Aboriginal's inate ability to adapt, and it is the expression of that adaptability which we can clearly see in todays fabulous Australian Aboriginal art.

The Western Desert painters are a group of Australian Aboriginal artists who have adapted their tribal art forms to the western world but only with regard to the western materials and techniques which they employ, the subject matter remains tightly focused on the stories and imagery which was passed down to them by their tribal ancesters.

In Arnhem Land, the Aborigines or Yolngu, still live in the traditional way, hunting, fishing and performing ceremonies that can go from days to sometimes weeks.
Arnhem Land art is distinguished by the cross-hatching or 'raark' design. Often the works portray human or animal figures on them, they can be bold with certain repeating patterns and tell stories of the Dreamtime creation. There are many different communities in Arnhem Land who use the cross hatching style, albeit with some variation; the 'raark' work illustrates a unity between all that live in Arnhem Land and has a shimmering appearance when finely executed. Works are still painted in natural ochres & earth pigments, but when artists do use acrylic paint they are applied in the traditional earth pigment colours. Traditionally, women were not permitted to paint but were able to assist their husbands doing the more repetitious work. Today that has significantly changed and many women artists from this area are creating exquisite works for the art market. As Arnhem Land is located close to the sea there are many works depicting animals, fish and plants drawn from that area.

The Tiwi of Bathurst and Melville Islands tend to paint vibrantly coloured crosshatched and dotted non-figurative designs. The Aboriginal designs are painted on bark baskets (tungas), carved ironwood sculptures and other cultural material which features in Pukumani mortuary ceremonies. Some early records still exist of white pipeclay paintings in bark shelters within that region.

Elcho Island, north east Arnhem Land, works are bold and strong. Cross-hatching can often fill the area and figures are painted in black. Red and black diamonds symbolise the Fire which was present during the Creation. It is said that Baru the crocodile, had his back burnt when he put the fire out and was left scarred with a cracked and rough skin.

Groote Eylandt bark paintings are highly distinctive in the way that figures are shown against a black background, more recent works have the background filled with crosshatched designs. Paintings show graphic depictions of animal totems, ceremony, creation narratives, geographical mapping and historical events which include the interaction with Maccassan traders. The Groote Eylandt artistic expression is very particular to that location and the art is not reproduced by any other Aboriginal group.

In Oenpelli, the Xray art depicts the internal organs of an animal, which not only provides anatomical tuition for the young but it also informs that all parts of the animal are equally important, and that those interwoven individual parts are collectively the whole!