Indepth Arts News: |
"Indigenous Australian artists: Barbara Wier and Ronnie Tjampitjinpa"
2004-07-10 until 2004-07-31
Flinders Lane Gallery
Their large format acrylic on canvas paintings combine modern expression with traditional elements and symbols that have been passed unaltered from generation to generation for thousands of years being preserved by a way of telling a story accompanied by a visual image ˆ sand drawing or ceremonial body painting. Stylistically both represent tradition of the Desert art (Northern Territory). B.Wier lives in the Central Desert, while R.Tjampitjinpa comes from the Western Desert. Both artists are determined to keep their heritage, their own social and cultural structure, their traditional ways of living on traditional land.
Barbara Weir (born in 1945 at a former Bundy River Station, Central Australia) belongs to the "Stolen generation" - a name referring to a group of Indigenous Australians, who being born of mixed - aboriginal and white settler's relationships were forcefully removed by Native Welfare from their traditional environment and housed in Western institutions or adopted by white families. In 1968 she travelled back to her family at Utopia, located approximately 230 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs. It was a difficult moment for everyone involved. Many returns followed later until she finally settled in traditional ways, re-learned Anmatyerre and Alyawarre languages and stayed there until 1997. Recently she travelled and exhibited widely throughout Australia, Europe and America. After spending few years in Adelaide the artist currently resides in Alice Springs.
Utopia region has already produced quite a large number of interesting indigenous artists. Some of the most prominent ones played important roles in B.Wier's life: firstly, her mother - Minnie Pwerle, secondly - Emily Kame Kngwarreye, who looked after her as a child and later always maintained a strong link. A batik workshop, established in the late 1970's brought on beginnings of the contemporary art to the Utopia region. The participating women utilised style and images used for ceremonial body painting in a new media - fabric. Year 1988 marked an introduction of synthetic paints and canvasses. It resulted in creation of extraordinary works. B.Wier, who was part of the original group of women batik artists, quickly developed a highly sophisticated contemporary painting style, which organically incorporated traditional images. She used ceremonial motifs of the seeds, plants, fruits and other elements of her surrounding region in vibrant, complex layers of colourful dots and brushstrokes.
Her paintings, filled with ancient symbols coming from the ancestral past, reflect the plenitude of old days when food was abundant. Emotionally and visually they talk of respect and love for the traditional land and everything it provides for the people.
"I paint my mother's country, the land where we live, find and prepare our food. I paint the same old stories I heard as a child, only my personal style is different," muses Barbara. She does not regard herself as a unique artist. Everyone is an artist: "We just paint the images we use in our traditional ceremonies", says B.Wier. As she puts it: "It is good that we can tell our stories in the media that can be preserved for future generations". Only the ones involved in the making of the composition can give its meaning. Paintings can have several interpretation levels: a sacred meaning, topographical description of the site, a historical record of the event, detailed description of food sources, as well as unquestionable aesthetical value. The richness of the meaning and emotion creates a feeling of importance, belonging and knowledge of being - all too familiar to every human being.
Differently to B.Wier, RonnieTjampitjinpa (a Pintupi language speaker, born in 1943) always lived with his traditional family. However, in the early 1960's after travels in Western desert region, forced by severe draught away from their lands, moved to Papunya - a community created by the government west of Alice Springs, where Indigenous Australians were forcibly settled. There, in 1971 a desert painting movement was started. It produced many great figures of Indigenous Australian painting ˆ Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Old Mick Tjakamarra and numerous others. R.Tjampitjinpa joined the movement early on, developing a distinct style in the 1980's. In the early 1980's he left Papunya for his traditional land, a move that was made possible with the establishment of Kintore, but never lost connection with the Papunya Tula Artists‚ movement.
His paintings have been inspired by Tingari, water and fire ceremonial stories and images. Strong reds, blacks, yellows dominate his work. The artist follows his strict traditional style, creating amazing optical effects full of pulsating energy, created out of dots, circles, intertwining and joined together lines. Though the symbols used remain a mystery to uninitiated, the power of artistic expression, inner strength, self-discipline and evident spirituality is appreciated by all the viewers.
Composition of every painting of both artists is finely tuned, balanced and controlled as a whole as well as when viewed in fragments. B.Wier's dynamic, subtle intertwining brushstrokes or small dots of vibrant "Bonnardesque" colours create feeling of movement of the surface. Blades of grass appear to swing in the wind. R.Tjampitjinpa's bold graphic regular shape patches of a single strong colour on the dark background - not dissimilar to architectural glass mosaics that have been illuminated from underneath. By right of birth both artists have permission to paint their people's dreaming stories and images, they are able to "read" the symbols. This knowledge, combined with life experience, expressiveness of inner emotions and artistic talent resulted in valuable works of art with complex, abstract designs. Paintings display a broad range of colours and shades, their compositions are fluent and flexible, allowing for artist‚s personal style and self-expression of individual experiences. It is more than traditional retelling of the story - it is a subjective view of the surrounding world and inner emotions captured in an art form
Interest in Indigenous Australian artists is rising rapidly at the moment. The exhibitions travel throughout the world. Art galleries representing the artists are extremely busy and, of late, auction houses turned their attention towards this unique, sophisticated, highly complex and mysterious body of work. Undoubtedly, the Central Desert artists are credited with creating Australia's most known contemporary Aboriginal art. The current show of B.Wier and R.Tjampitjinpa is a good representation of acrylic on canvass works of some of the group. In addition, to introduce Central Desert style to art loving public, for first few days of the show B.Wier will spend painting at the gallery floor providing a first hand glimpse of her creative process.
- Ausra Larbey,
Grass Seeds 2004
Acrylic on linen
122 x 122cm