Aboriginal Art: The finest Aboriginal art for sale
ABORIGINAL ART IS MYSTICAL and aweinspiring and displays a profound connection with the unique Australian landscape. It also offers an exciting journey of discovery into one of the world’s oldest surviving cultures.
Yet because it is so different from Western art it can be difficult to know how to identify and buy authentic pieces. Here are some valuable insights into the incredible diversity of Aboriginal art and how to go about finding the best pieces to suit your budget.
Archaeologists have dated Aboriginal rock art as far back as 40,000 years or more. Aboriginals have been creating other less permanent art forms, including body, bark and sand art, for untold centuries. Aboriginal culture is rooted in the land. There are not one but many different Aboriginal cultures spread across every part of the country. Each has its own language and complex belief system that explains the universe and the place of people within it.
Because there are so many distinctive Aboriginal cultures there is also a great diversity of artistic styles and media, from the well-known dot paintings of the Western Desert to the Western Kimberley’s ghost-like Wandjina creation ancestors with huge mouthless faces.
Traditional Aboriginal art practitioners do not see themselves as artists but as storytellers. Since there are no written languages, the making of artworks is all about sharing a spiritual association with a specific landscape or ‘country’, as well as communicating obligations to this ‘country’ through Dreaming stories and Songlines. The Dreamtime describes the time of creation when enormous mythic creatures roamed the Earth creating landforms and deciding which people could live in each special place.
The stories are told via many different media. Traditionally, there was rock art, sand and body paintings as well as ochre bark paintings, wood carvings and fibre weaving, the latter portable art still available today.
Contemporary Aboriginal art using Western acrylics on canvas began as recently as 1971 in the remote township of Papunya, west of Alice Springs, when a teacher named Geoffrey Bardon gave some acrylics to men in the community to paint a mural on the school wall. This was how the Western Desert Art movement began.
Since then dozens of art centres have developed in tiny communities from Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley to Maningreda and Ngukkur in Arnhem Land. Each has art advisers who bring in canvases and paints and get the artworks to major urban markets. While the materials may be Western and while the colourful imagery may seem like versions of Abstract Expressionism, the most of these works evoke traditional dreaming stories or kinship with the land and its bush foods.
As with any art form, there are authentic works and cheap imitations. It gets more complicated when you learn that most Indigenous works are not signed. You can, however, be assured that works are authentic if you buy from members of the Aboriginal Art Association of Australia, the Australian Commercial Galleries Association and the Indigenous Art Code. Those are the official names of the blue-chip industry bodies that will provide the correct authentication and pay artists fair commissions.
Professional art galleries specialising in Aboriginal art have knowledgeable and experienced staff who can provide excellent advice, as well as introducing you to both established and up-and-coming artists who work in the styles that most interest you.
Remember to consider a wide range of artistic endeavours. If you are looking for an investment piece, large scale acrylic paintings tend to appreciate the most but you could also search out more affordable limited edition prints by established artists.
There are also many other media to discover such as bark paintings, poles, weavings and screen-printed fabrics. All offer a powerful connection to Australia and its enduring Aboriginal culture.
Remember, you don’t have to spend a fortune to take an authentic piece of Australia home with you.
Barbara Weir, “Grass Seed”, 122 x 183cm, from Kate Owen Gallery.
Esther Bruno Nangala, “Marrapinti”, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 93cm, from Aboriginal Art Galleries.