Australian Aboriginal art has always been a huge inspiration in my abstract artwork. I love indigenous art from cultures all over the world, but Aboriginal art always held a certain attraction for me – the colors, the patterns, and the symbolism are all so imbued with meaning. Aboriginal art in its purest form is not separate from daily life – it is part of it, intricately interwoven with their belief system.
A few days ago I had the joy of viewing a collection of Australian Aboriginal art paintings on permanent display at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. Seeing these works in person is a moving experience because the artworks function on a level that goes far beyond the visual.
Many Aboriginal art paintings represent the “Dreamtime” or “Dreaming”, which are terms used to describe various Aboriginal creation stories – what we would call myths. These creation stories explain the origins of the tribes, the formations of certain geological features, as well as outline their spiritual and philosophical beliefs. The Dreamtime explains the balance and relationship of all these aspects.
Traditional Aboriginal paintings often resemble a map of sorts. Traditional symbols are used to represent water, waterholes, clouds, stars, fire, smoke, rain, cliffs and sandhills. There are also symbols that represent people, especially people sitting, alone or in groups, and often in front of a fire or camp site.
Look at the painting above, on the far right. The half-circles probably represent people and the concentric circles most likely represent a meeting place, such as a fire, camp site, stone or well.
Australian Aboriginal art is most commonly noted for their dots, as you can see in the close-up above. The dots can represent things like stars or sparks, although they are also used to obscure the meaning of the Dreamtime paintings. The secrets of the Dreamtime are only meant for the initiated, so traditionally they have been closely guarded. With the rising popularity of Aboriginal art to global collectors, many Aboriginal artists have painted the dots to cover up the symbolism underneath.
The dots are painted by dipping a paintbrush into a pot of acrylic paint and then dotting the paint on the canvas, usually with the paintbrush being held at a 90 degree angle to the canvas. Canvases are usually laid flat on the ground, so the artist works in a sitting position and moves around the painting.
The paintings above and below are contemporary Australian Aboriginal art paintings by Tommy Watson, born in 1935. The painting above, Awilyulu, was painted in 2003. This paintings depicts his country, with sandhills at the top and water snakes towards the center. The painting below, Anamarapiti, was painted in 2002 and depicts the land where he grew up. The circles represent rockholes.
Australian Aboriginal art continues to hold a deep fascination for me. I am immensely pleased to finally be in Australia, where I can learn more about these artworks and the artists who create them.