Aboriginal Dot Paintings

Aboriginal dot paintings are world famous.

The new way of using canvas and acrylic paints may only have started in the 1970s, but the symbols and stories on modern dot paintings have been used in Aboriginal desert sand art for thousands of years.

History of Aboriginal Dot Paintings
While northern Australia is known for its excellent rock art, many of which were done in the famous X-Ray style, the people of central Australia and western deserts were known for their desert sand art. They used to clear a piece of land, and “paint” a story on sand, using small rocks, flowers, feathers and seeds. All the different shapes in Aboriginal dot paintings had a meaning, and as the elders were painting pictures they sang a Dreamtime song. Young clan members were watching and listening, and learned the story from it. Sand paintings were also used during spiritual ceremonials and other religious rituals. Paintings on the sand didn’t of course last for long, so what there was to learn from them had to be done instantly.

aboriginal dot paintings
  Aboriginal dot paintings by Peter Pikous via Flickr.com

Modern Aboriginal Dot Paintings
In the 1970s, an artist of European background by the name of Geoffrey Barton helped Papunya people in central Australia to transfer their sand paintings to canvas by using dots to paint their sacred designs which they used in ceremony. So the Aboriginal artists abstracted their sacred designs into dots. This became to be known as Papunya Art Movement. These people quickly became famous for their paintings and today the Papunya Tukla School has about 150 artists. As opposed to the old sand paintings, they now paint their dot paintings on canvas sheets, using acrylic colours. These have many more shades to choose from than the traditional ochre colours; and the paintings on canvas don’t only last longer than the sand paintings, but they can also be brought into art galleries and shipped overseas. The modern dot paintings have become very famous and sell well world-wide. They are globally recognised as unique Aboriginal art. Dot paintings now appear on much more than canvas sheets – they are found on all sorts of Australian souvenirs, not only on didgeridoos and boomerangs but also others like t-shirts, fridge magnets and coffee cups.

What Symbols Are There and What Do They Mean?
Modern dot paintings use the same symbols as did the ancient sand paintings. There is often a whole story in a dot painting, easy to understand for people who are familiar with the Dreamtime stories, customs and also dot symbols of a particular tribe. But other, simpler dot paintings can nowadays also just have a simple message and picture animals like kangaroos, snakes and lizards. Symbols can also have different meanings depending on the tribe. An arc shape for example can represent a boomerang or a person sitting at the campfire. A circle can represent an important person or event. Concentric circles can represent a rock hole, a camping site or a significant ancestral site. U shaped lines often mean a person sitting. Straight lines mean travel routes while wavy lines often mean water or rain. Often only the artist or people really familiar with the story or the life of the particular tribe can understand the painting fully.


Got your own story to tell?

Share it!!!

We all love to read other readers' stories!

You will create YOUR own page on Gondwananet!

Make it nice - you can also submit a photo to your page ;-)

[ ? ]

Upload 1-4 Pictures or Graphics (optional)[ ? ]


Click here to upload more images (optional)

Author Information (optional)

To receive credit as the author, enter your information below.

(first or full name)

(e.g., City, State, Country)

Submit Your Contribution

  •  submission guidelines.

(You can preview and edit on the next page)

You Are Secure!

Bookmark and Share

[?] Subscribe To This Site

follow us in feedly
Add to My Yahoo!
Add to My MSN
Subscribe with Bloglines