The latest in an on-going series of thought provoking Aboriginal art exhibitions at NG Art curated by Coo-ee Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal paintings are often described as landscapes but they are far more than this. They are all about nature and the formation of a ˜living’ landscape. We see at once its form and its creation. The movement of the Karntakulangu women, through the abstract works of Dorothy Napangardi, as they dance in great number across the salt lakes and leave their impression in the surface to remain for all time. The sandhills of Anangkura created as the Mountain Devil Lizard moves single grains of sand over the millennia to create Kathleen Petyarre’s sacred country. The momentous events that unfolded in the travels of the Tingari ancestor that left their impressions on Ronnie Tjampitjinpa’s sacred Tjuringa and manifest in his optically charged contemporary paintings.

Forms from nature are transposed into purely abstract elements in the hands of these Aboriginal painters. Their works resonate with those of ˜Op-art’ and ˜simulationist’ artists such as Victor Vasarely and Ross Bleckner, It begs the question¦. What is it about the images of these artists that resonates so strongly with those of Bridget Riley, Vasarely, Bleckner, Phillip Taaffe, and James Turrell, and are these fair comparisons? Given their isolation there is no question of imitation or appropriation! How is it then that these isolated Aboriginal artists make works that resonate so strongly with many at the forefront of the great global contemporary art movements that have ebbed and flowed across the international landscape?

In the works selected for this exhibition there is far more than texture, contrast, light and space. The eye of the viewer travels over the surface of these works, paralleling their movement over nature. In doing so they are charged with an intensity that can become disorienting. This sensory effect parallels that created when looking at Riley’s early black and white works. They can be ˜inhabited, so that the mind’s eye, or the eye’s mind, can move about them credibly’. In common with early works by Riley, ˜nature is not landscape, but the dynamism of visual forces, an event rather than an appearance’ There are no objects in Riley’s works, and no images in these Aboriginal paintings. As with the works of James Turrell they demonstrate the play of light and the manifestation of movement. There is no colour. Their appeal lies in the dynamic optical and simulationist effects created while depicting a timeless numinous landscape. They engage the viewer through sensation and perception, creating vibrant visual experiences that are arresting due to both complexity and subtlety. While appearing devoid of colour, colour is manufactured perceptually. They emanate a light that reflects nature. This is a space that is made for Indigenous art. The space allows you to comprehend the size, the depth of these vast tracts of land, without being overwhelmed. When you are ready, the paintings draw you in. Their appeal is timeless and lies at the heart of the growing resonance with, and appeal of, Aboriginal art.

Adrian Newstead December 2008


The Black and White at NG Gallery Exhibition is being held at the

NG Gallery Upper Level 3 Little Queen Street Chippendale NSW 2008 Sydney Australia

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