Aboriginal art is the world’s oldest continuous living artistic tradition. Rock engravings found in Central Australia showing concentric arcs and bird track motifs like those still used today by Aboriginal artists date from more than 30,000 years ago. Recent discovery of ochre paintings in cave shelters in Northern Australia have been determined to be at least 40,000 years old. Acrylic paintings are a new form in which the traditional elements of Aboriginal life and religion are expressed, and Aboriginal people are not surprised that others are interested in their paintings. They consider it only natural that those who are not fortunate enough to be Aboriginal would want to learn about their culture. Modern acrylic paintings are viewed as a vehicle for teaching non-aboriginals about their way of life, as well as proof of their own cultural identity, confirming that they own and belong to the land. For Aborigines, seeing and creating the designs on the paintings is evidence of the strength and vitality of their culture.

Before European invasion Australia was home to more than 250 distinct languages and even more distinct peoples. Each group had its own cultural traditions, fostered over tens of thousands of years, and each evolved its own iconography for paintings that were made on rock shelters, on bodies and implements for ceremony and on the shifting sands as cultural practice. Aboriginal art codifies memory and knowledge of landscape (country), tribal history and the spirit world. The artists of today work primarily in acrylic paint on canvas or linen. These materials were introduced by a young art teacher at the Papunya settlement in the Central Desert in the 1970's as a way for the people to record and express their culture which had been repressed during the assimilation policy of the government. This small endeavor has become an explosion of creativity and cultural renewal all over Aboriginal Australia, with new groups emerging as serious artists and ongoing stylistic innovation. The diversity of this expression and innovation  is truly amazing.

Aboriginal paintings are generally done outdoors, with the painting lying on the ground. The artists work their way around the canvas, applying paint from more than one direction, giving the paintings their distinctly non-western perspective. Each painting is a re-enactment of connection to country. Their works are still based today on historical images and ideas; maps of watering holes and ancestral activities, the re-telling of Dreamings (the spiritual basis of Aboriginal culture) or ceremonial body painting designs. Each painting contains its own song. Everything in this world was sung into existence by the ancestors. Before song there was nothing. The songs given to the people by the ancestors have always been used to used to remember and teach all of the intellectual, cultural and spiritual knowledge of the people. The paintings are the modern expression of this ancient and valuable knowledge.  

Though non-schooled in a western sense, each Aboriginal artist tends to develop unique personal techniques which are often quite innovative. Some have loosened the traditional forms. The elemental vocabulary of dots, dashes, concentric circles and wavy lines that many Aboriginal artists use to build up their abstracted landscapes manage to be geometric and organic at the same time. Some more recent paintings are explorations of colour and gesture that sit comfortably in the Western tradition of non-narrative painting. Aboriginal artists, like artists anywhere in the world, draw on many sources: on past traditions, the present environment and on their imaginations. Like all contemporary art, Aboriginal art is in the process of evolution – changing as time changes, and as circumstances change. 

Most contemporary Aboriginal artists live today straddling two distinct cultures. They may have grown up in the bush and are now leading what is essentially a Western existence. Their art contains an uncommon link between modern art and the ancient history that continues to guide and inspire the Aboriginal people. Traditional beliefs continue amidst the westernization of missionary schools and contemporary Australian life. That’s an amazing life experience upon which to draw, and it informs so much of what they produce as artists.

Aboriginal art is considered by many to be the last great art movement of the 20th century and is gaining in recognition internationally these days. Modern art collectors in Britain, Europe and the US have been relatively uneducated about the potential of contemporary Aboriginal art but that is changing, due in part to the incorporation of artwork by Australian Aboriginal artists (exclusively) into the architecture of the new Musee du Quai Branley in Paris. The artworks of eight contemporary indigenous Australians were incorporated into walls and ceilings of one of the buildings. In the US, a magnificent exhibit "Dreaming Our Way" originating at Washington DC's National Museum of Women in the Arts has stimulated interest and resulted in a very informative article in the April 2007 issue of Art in America magazine.  Robert Hughes, leading  New York  art critic  and  author  of  'The Shock  of the  New' , describes  contemporary Aboriginal  art  as “the greatest art movement of our time”, and according to Stephane Martin of the Musee du Quai Branley (Paris), the art is "vibrant and dynamic, ageless and contemporary".   

In 2009 several important exhibits were shown in New York. "Icons of the Desert: Early Aboriginal Paintings from Papunya" at Grey Ant Gallery at New York University displayed the dynamic first-ever attempts to record traditional ceremonial imagery on a permanent surface. At the same time, "We Are Here Sharing Our Dreaming" an exclusive first-time selling exhibit from Papunya Tula Artists cooperative was on display at the university's 80 Washington Square East Galleries. This showcase of the very best of recent work had nearly sold out by the end of the opening evening with 38 of the 45 works gone. In Washington DC the traveling exhibit  "Australian Indigenous Art Triennial: Culture Warriors" organized by the National Gallery of Australia showcased the works of artists from each state and territory in Australia representing a diverse range of contemporary indigenous art.  In addition, in 2010, a small exhibit of 14 paintings done within the last decade or so on loan from a private collector was shown at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. This was the first time the Met had shown paintings from indigenous Australians and it garnered a complimentary article in the Wall Street Journal.  

All of these exhibitions have been very well-received by the press and the art-going public.

                                            Ochre Dot Gallery    2008-2012


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