Aboriginal Artists – Australian Indigenous Artists
Indigenous Australian Aboriginal Art is the oldest ongoing form of artistic expression in the world. The earliest forms of Aboriginal art were rock carvings and paintings, body painting and ground designs. There are engravings on cave walls in Arnhem Land dating back at least 60,000 years. One of the largest collections of rock art is in the heritage listed Dampier Archipelago in Western Australia, where the rock engravings are thought to number in the millions.
Australian Aboriginal people have no written language of their own, and so the important stories central to the people’s culture are based on the traditional icons and information in the artwork, which go hand in hand with recounted stories, dance or song, helping to pass on vital information and preserve their culture. Aboriginal art on canvas and board only began 40 years ago. In 1971, Geoffrey Bardon a school teacher working with Aboriginal children in Papunya, noticed the Aboriginal men, while telling stories to others, were drawing symbols in the sand. He encouraged them to put these stories down on board and canvas, and there began the Aboriginal art movement.
A large proportion of contemporary Aboriginal art is based on important ancient stories and symbols centered on ‘the Dreamtime’ – the period in which Indigenous people believe the world was created. The Dreamtime stories are up to and possibly even exceeding 50,000 years old, and have been handed down through the generations. Paintings are also used for teaching: A painting (in effect a visual story) is often used by Aboriginal people for different purposes, and the interpretations of the iconography (symbols) in the artwork can vary according to the audience. So the story may take one form when told to children and a very different and higher level form when speaking to initiated elders.
Aboriginal art is regional in character and style, so different areas with different traditional languages approach art in special ways. Much of contemporary Aboriginal art can be readily recognised for the community where it was produced. Dot painting is specific to the Central and Western desert, cross-hatching and rarrk design and x-ray paintings come from Arnhem Land, Wandjina spirit beings come from the Kimberely coast. Preference for ochre paints is marked in Arnhem Land and east Kimberley. Other stylistic variations identify more closely to specific communities.
All works displayed by Jah Roc galleries are sourced only from art centres owned and run by aboriginal communities. We are proud to have on show works by Peggy Griffiths who is a senior artist at the Waringarri Arts Centre in Kununurra. Peggy was the first Indigenous artist to win the 1995 Fremantle Print Award and has had her work displayed in numerous group and solo exhibitions.
We also carry paintings by Alan Griffiths, Peggy Griffiths husband. Alan is a skilled printmaker, painter and wood carver who won the East Kimberley Aboriginal Achievement Award in 2007. Alan uses traditional ochres and pigments to create his distinctive works and has had his work displayed in Parliament House in Canberra and many galleries around Australia.
Wakartu Cory Surprise was a highly regarded award-winning indigenous artist. Born in the Great Sandy Desert around 1929 she never knew her mother or father who died when she was a child. Painting in acrylics, Cory’s themes included Dreamtime stories, waterholes and rockholes and the country of her mother and brother (Mayita). Wakartu Cory Surprise died in 2011.
East Kimberley painter Billy Duncan first started painting in the 1990’s and quickly developed into a successful artist. Painting in traditional ochres and pigments he depicts dreaming sites in a bold and individual style.
Also on display at the gallery are a range of larrakitj (memorial poles) by artists Galuma Maymuru and Djambawa Marawili AM. The poles are hollow coffins traditionally created to hold the bones of the dead in secondary burial and are decorated in symbolic style using ochres and acrylics.