On Friday, Sutherland Shire Council announced Torresian Brian Robinson from Cairns as the winner of the Hazelhurst Art on Paper Award 2017 for his work entitled ‘Land Sea Sky “ Charting our place in the universe’ (2016). Brian Robinson has been awarded $15,000.
Judge for the 2017 Award, Denise Mimmocchi, Senior Curator of Australian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales chose this work from 76 finalists. Technically this work is incredibly sophisticated, it has a wonderful sense of the movements of the universe where land, sea and stars meet and gods mingle with figures of popular culture.
Robinson himself explained: The Islanders of the Torres Strait reside in a narrow waterway between the land masses of Zai Dagam Daudai [Australia] in the south and Naigai Dagam Daudai [Papua New Guinea] in the north where the Coral and Arafura Seas meet in one of the most fragile and intricate waterways in the world. A seafaring race of Indigenous people, proud and dignified, whose spirituality is derived from ancestral ties to the land, the sea and the sky. Torres Strait Islander culture is especially linked to the stars. They inform Islander laws, customs and practices that are recorded and handed down in the form of story, song, dance, ceremony and artefacts. Islander astronomy also contains practical information about the natural world (especially the weather), which is essential for survival and cultural continuity. Islander culture is linked to Tagai “ the creation deity that is represented by a constellation of stars that spans across the southern sky.
Robinson, who was born on Waiben (Thursday Island) in the Torres Strait, but also has links to Shelburne Bay on Cape York which has just been handed back to the local Wuthathi people, has developed his sophisticated practice through working as a curator at Cairns Regional Gallery. But he clearly still has firm roots in the cultures of the Strait. On the crest of a wave currently, he’s been selected for the National Gallery’s Indigenous Quinquennial opening this week, and then heads for New York for an extension of the nautical Indigenous show that made headlines in Monaco last year.
I’m not really sure that ‘Land Sea Sky’ is Robinson’s best Work on Paper. His linocuts are different from the likes of Alick Tipoti and Dennis Nona in weaving a wide range of non-Torresian references into the work. Greek mythology “ especially the travels of Odysseus – in a work like ‘Up in the Heavens the Gods Contemplate their Next Move’ makes a delightful match for figures from his own mythologies. He won the 2013 WA Indigenous Art Award for that and a work of 3D hyper-real flowers tended by a possibly threatening god-like figure. Now, the gods are still there in the clouds, but themselves threatened by pacmen pouring in from space while the sea “ represented by classic Torresian Kaidara patterns (the TSI equivalent of Arnhemland rarrking) “ and its multifarious fishy inhabitants are randomly separated, and a ‘Pirates of the Caribbean‘ compass floats unexplained almost off the paper. Linkages of meaning seem missing.
But it stood out as a technically majestic work in the room of 76 works (selected from a record 850 entries), which included five Aboriginal works, mainly from the APY Lands. Most would have looked better on canvas, I suspect, though Mumu Mike Williams’ ‘Mapa Wiya (We Don’t Need a Map)’ was based on an Imperial image of the Australia that the white man thought he’d found! Coincidence??? That’s also the title of Warwick Thornton’s documentary film that opens the Sydney Film Festival! And Robert Fielding entered a field of holes burnt into paper, a witty revision of acrylic Desert dotting. The other Aboriginal artists selected were Puna Yanima, Paniny Mick and Tiwi Timothy Cook.
The panel which whittled the 850 down was Carrie Kibbler, Hazelhurst Gallery curator, Grahame Kime, Gallery Manager, Louisa Chircop, winner of the 2015 Art on Paper Local Artist Award and Rochelle Haley, artist and lecturer at UNSW Art & Design.
The Young & Early Career Artist’s Award of $5,000 was awarded to Harriet Body for ‘Wet Season, Dry Season’ (2017) and the Friends of Hazelhurst Local Artist Prize of $5,000 was awarded to Michelle Cawthorn for ‘Daughter‘ (2017).The installation crew also chose their favourite work (Archibald-style) which was Andy Quilty ‘Self Portrait Studies #10’ (2017). Andy will receive a 4-week residency at Hazelhurst. The People’s Choice Award of $1,000 will be announced on 3 July.
Non-Indigenous works that took my eye were headed by Deborah Kelly’s video ‘Lying Women’ (2016) featuring a multitude of cut-out female forms from art history, Jennifer Keeler-Milne’s ‘Oval Portraits’ (2016/17) in charcoal and Tianli Zu’s outsize Chinese paper-cuts.
Artist: Brian Robinson, Alick Tipoti, Dennis Nona, Mumu Mike Williams, Robert Fielding, Puna Yanima, Paniny Mick, Timothy Cook,
Gallery: Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre ,