Aboriginal art history
Aboriginal people have been living in Australia at
least 60,000 years and the oldest rock paintings are up to 60,000 years
old. That’s not the oldest art in the world, but it’s the world's
oldest continuous tradition of art.
- Aboriginal Art History
As long as indigenous people have been living in Australia, they have
been creating different types of art like rock
paintings, bark paintings, sand drawings and body
art as well as decorations on weapons,
tools and musical instruments. The oldest art
examples we see today are the rock paintings.
That’s not because Aboriginal people in the old days would only paint
rocks. It’s because rock is more durable than other materials and those
paintings have therefore been preserved until today. Even on the rocks,
most of the paintings have been preserved inside caves, where they have
been protected from weather, while the paintings on outside rock
surfaces have often been washed away. There is an enormous variation in
the styles of Aboriginal
rock art, depending on their age and
location. Both the abstract dot paintings and naturalistic art,
including X-ray style has been found in rock art of various ages.
Aboriginal art history by Nigel Paine via Flickr.com
Traditional Methods in Aboriginal Art History
Whether they were painting rocks, bark, tools, weapons or anything
else, traditionally Aboriginal people all over Australia used ochre to
make paint. Ochre is a name given to different iron oxide
were used as pigments. Having been weathered from iron deposits, these
oxides all have reddish colour. It’s the same mineral that makes
Australian outback soils and many famous rocks like Uluru
Ochre Colours - Aboriginal Art History
on the exact conditions under which those minerals
formed, their colour
can be anything from yellow to orange, red, purple and dark brown. That
gave a whole range of
different colours to mix and play with. Black pigment was made from
and white from calcite, ash or different clay minerals. Mixing black or
white with other colours made them darker or brighter and further
increased the amount of variations. White and black were mixed
to make grey.
Preparing Ochre Paint - Aboriginal Art History
Preparing ochre paints was a time-consuming work. First the rocks
containing iron oxide minerals had to be found and collected. Then the
rock had to be powdered by grinding, and then that powder had to be
mixed with some sort of fluid – a so-called binder - to become paint.
Nowadays you can buy binders, but in the old days Aboriginal people
sap, reptile egg yolks, bush honey, kangaroo
blood and others. Water or saliva isn’t good enough, they do get the
paint on the rock or a piece of bark, but they won’t hold it there for
thousands of years.
Modern Methods: Canvas and Acrylic Paints
Modern Aboriginal art still uses the old styles and symbols, but when
it comes to the methods, it is a mixture of the traditional Aboriginal
the modern culture. The big turn happened in the 1970s when a European
artist Geoffrey Barton helped Papunya People in central Northern
to develop their dot painting by painting it on canvas with acrylic
paints. It developed into the famous Papunya Tukla School with about
150 artists. Several other modern styles have developed like the
watercolour paintings of Albert Namatjira, and the Hermannsburg School.
Aboriginal people from many different parts of Australia, particularly
central, northern and South
Arnhem Land and Tiwi Islands have now taken up acrylic painting.
Modern Methods: Acrylic Colours
Doing it in the modern way has many advantages. Using acrylic colours
and canvas saves them tons of time, and they can still choose to use
the traditional yellowish-reddish-brownish colours if they want. And
maybe most importantly - as opposed to bark and rock paintings, canvas
paintings are easy to sell.
Modern Methods: Canvas
Using canvas to paint on has given Aboriginal People an opportunity to
get their art out there, and modern Aboriginal art, particularly the
has taken off and started selling on big scale even internationally.
This gives the Aboriginal artists an opportunity to get their culture
more recognised internationally, and earn an income from it while doing
something they love to do. Apart from canvas paintings, they paint on
pottery, and various tools and instruments like boomerangs,
didgeridoos and clapping sticks - some
of the most popular souvenirs to buy in Australia.
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