Australian art history has had its key moments which can be considered as genuine signposts of radical development: the Heidelberg School, the Angry Penguins and the Aboriginal Art Movement – born at Papunya in the early 1970s and characterised by multifarious styles across the breadth and width of the country since.
Australian Aboriginal Art has its origins in the spirituality, connection to country and history of the world’s oldest culture it should also be discussed in the wider context of modern and contemporary art. The recognition for Aboriginal Art in the broader art historical paradigm, acknowledges its immense influence and importance both on the national and international stage. Moreover, such a view, actively encouraging comparisons and contrasts, assists in relocating contemporary Aboriginal Art out of the noble savage sentiment, where often it can be found, and into a wider discourse.
The characteristic of continuing change and development, usually conferred on western artists only, is synonymous with many Aboriginal artists, including artists represented in this exhibition, like Joseph Jurra Tjapaltjarri, Johnny Yungut Tjupurrula and Yukultji Napangati. It should be expected that Indigenous artists should continue to develop and push their artistic boundaries. While drawing on a very old culture they do not work in a vacuum. The stories, which inform the works, may not change but the artistic language invariably is and should be open to experimentation and flux.
While the story of a painting can enrich the experience, it is not essential to engage with the work. It is the visual that excites us. It is the visual that moves us. It is the visual that ultimately decides whether we like or dislike the work. It is the visual that defines the great Abstractionists and it should be the visual where we begin our investigation and enjoyment of Indigenous Art.
Aboriginal Art has rightly been described as one of the great abstract movements in art history. Paul Carter, in his introduction to Geoffrey Bardon’s recent major publication on the history of Papunya Tula Artists, wrote how the reduction of four-dimensional knowledge inherent in Aboriginal culture to a two-dimensional design ‘was an extraordinary technical feat’.
Aboriginal Art is by definition the art of an indigenous culture, a window into a world and a system of belief different to that of the whitefella. It is founded in a history thousands of years old, in stories that are sacred, treasured and passed down generationally with respect and order. However, it is an art form that sits alongside the many isms which have been defined over the centuries, none more so than minimalism and abstractionism. These important artists of Papunya Tula, the pioneers of the Western Desert Art Movement are the torchbearers of the most recent Australian avant-garde.
The above extract from Dr. Vincent Alessi’s essay ‘Picasso, Duchamp, Pollock. Tjapaltjarru…’ reproduced in the full in the ‘Pintupi Trail 2011’ exhibition catalogue is available from Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne. For more details visit: www.gabriellepizzi.com.au