For 40,000 years Aboriginal artists have produced stunning works, says Anthony Smith
Anthony Smith champions aboriginal art
Let me take you to the home of the oldest continuous artistic movement on the planet: Australia. The art movement is that of the Australian Aborigines.
Aboriginal art is found in collections and homes around the world and many here in Norfolk. Its contemporary ‘abstraction’ and decorative quality are the main attractions.
But, in fact, the works are far from abstract. The best examples depict sacred knowledge, with many works containing a direct link to the Dreamtime, the ancient history and myths of Aboriginal culture.
I remember watching a TV series, Art+Soul, that discussed Aboriginal art over 40,000 years, its development and popularity today. The presenter, was Hetti Perkins, an ex-curator of Aboriginal art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and of Aboriginal heritage. She was astounded when she took an Aboriginal elder, an artist, around the gallery’s collection and, when viewing a work, he began to chant.
She asked him what he was chanting to and he said it was the painting he was looking at. It was for him a sacred text as opposed to a simple artwork. Astounding.
There are hidden meanings and/or knowledge in some of these works that can also remind us what has been lost over the generations. Not all Aboriginal art is good and/or spiritual. A great deal of Aboriginal art is simply produced for a tourist market. Many people assume that their painting is of high quality, but often this belief is simply based on not having any point of reference. As with any artwork, it’s just so important to do your homework.
Some buyers prefer only to purchase works that have come directly through Aboriginal community art centres, as if the works there have more credibility as opposed to purchasing via private dealers who buy directly from artists. Having purchased from both, certainly, buying artworks from community centres is in some respects easier, particularly in regard to pricing. However works that I have purchased from dealers who buy directly from artists tend to be of a higher standard, though they can be more expensive too.
As with any valuable art, there are fakes or, more often, incorrectly attributed works. However, such activity was mostly perpetrated with deceased and high value artists’ works.
Today, there is a huge awareness of this issue amongst dealers and we are all wary. I remember seeing a number of paintings in London that were supposedly by a famous artist. They just didn’t conform in their execution to paintings I knew were by her hand so I approached the community centre and spoke to the manager there.
She confirmed that the works were in fact done by members of the artist’s family even though they were purchased through the centre as by the artist. The fact is that there can be huge pressure on successful artists by their families to produce more and sometimes they simply can’t.
When you have the opportunity, look and look again at these works. They are unique, primitive, contemporary, uplifting and in the best works, spiritual.
On that note, have a spiritual and very Merry Christmas.
ABOVE: Aboriginal art Murdie Nampijinpa Morris/asart Ltd