PEINTURE ABORIGENE CONTEMPORAINE
des déserts du Centre et de l’Ouest australiens
Collection Marc Sordello & Francis Missana
9 novembre 2007 –10 février 2008
"Marapinti" de Naata Nungarrayi
© The artist licensed by Aborignal Artists Agency, Sydney 2007
About contemporary Aboriginal painting
The Musee d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain of Nice gives privilege to the very high quality of the content of its projects, as in the choice of its programming. When the opportunity came to present contemporary Aboriginal art from the deserts of central Australia, it did not appear to us to be incongruous to go and discover exactly what was hidden behind this term. It was made easier to do this mainly because the works had not yet been mounted on their presentation board. Roughly fifty canvases were spread out on the floor, in no apparent order, in the total splendor of their pallet and the diversity of their fabrication.
The works seemed to have left their studio only a few days previously. When we use the word ‘studio” it would be necessary to reconsider this term since most of the Aboriginal artists, of whom it is question, live and work in very deserted regions of central Australia, in communities, where the term of studio is totally ignored as signified by Western conception – and if the Aboriginal artists know about the principal it is not the way of working that they prefer. Thus, these canvases that were laid out haphazardly on the floor as if only just painted, which was, almost, the case for a number of them, made us think strangely about a Jackson Pollock, busy tracing some interlacing on a dripping, pouring the paint in a large and precise gesture. It is in such a way that the Aboriginal artists, bent over their pieces of canvas, apply touches of acrylic paint with the help of brushes and sticks. Usually their gestures are precise, hatching long traces of colours on the surface of the canvas. Sometimes they cover the motives that are drawn with little spots, the dotting, meticulously, so finely at times that they must use tools with multiple small size points that are coated with a material that enables them to cover the largest possible space.
In their majority, the works presented here have, at first sight, a clear tendency towards abstraction. Fundamentally the geographic region around Alice Springs has always been characterised by the very special qualities relating to the works and objects concerning expression of strong spirituality; they were influenced here by a refusal of figuration, more than in the other regions of Australia, as if to hide the profound meaning of the messages that could be found behind the geometrical lines and the dot covering. The actual paintings bear the same characteristics. This phenomenon is mainly due to the fact that the secret art of central Australia has always possessed an occult character and that the artists emerging from these regions are naturally the spiritual heirs of this tendency. What strikes us the most at first sight is that one cannot confound these canvases with the cultural objects and artifacts attached to traditional ceremonies. First, by their support: all are two dimensional paintings and the medium used is acrylic paint, very little in common with the work done on bark or in the sand. Here it is question of a really new work, original, existing beyond all reference. Evidently, one could note the drawing of certain traditional motives, identifiable signs sometimes, the course of a ‘Dream’, but these are no longer essential elements of a story that has been told. It is as if the artist has forced himself to cover all these traces in order to render the decoding even harder if possible or, as if they were anecdotal and that the essential could be found elsewhere. Some works are totally abstract; the lines wind around each other, interlace and overlay. We are not initiated but we can nevertheless guess that they are tracing a way towards something extremely fundamental.
The approach of the abstract movements both in the United States as in Europe, developed all along M.A.M.A.C.’s programming, is in itself an essential opening to enable the appreciation of Contemporary Aboriginal Art. When one installs a mural painting by Sol Lewitt on a surface of forty square meters for the exhibition ‘Intra-muros’, when the frontage of the museum offers one to be contemplated permanently and enable the viewer to be impregnated by the colored and concentric wave form spirals by the American minimalist artist, you can place yourself in the right condition to “feel” “Worm Dreaming – Napperby Lakes by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. It is obvious that Sol Lewitt is not searching to signify anything else other than the regular geometric order of coloured ribbons, carefully calibrated between the edges that surround them. On the contrary, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, even though he observes the same regularity that is precise and meticulous, hides a totally different message beneath the soft tonalities of the wavy lines. He tells of the Worm Dreaming near the lake Napperby, rolling and unrolling its rings while it moves on or under the ground, but beside the sinuosity is built such a maze that is only recognizable by the painting’s title. But even if the title did not exist, we could still appreciate the simple elegance of the design and the harmonious balance of the tones. The pleasure of the eye and the mind would be satisfied by the contemplation of the formal perfection of the broken lines of the 2006 Lightening Dreaming by Elisabeth Marks Nakamarra. The scheme of lightening striping the sky is repeated in a construction that approaches Optical Art. Similarly, the numerous movements of lines of white dots on a black background of the 2005 Tingari Cycle by Warlinpirrnga Tjapaltjarri which describes the long travels of the Tingari Ancestor across the deserts of Central Australia. The sobriety, the modernity of his graphics, the movement that is created by the arrangements of the white dots clearly makes us perceive the length of the first initiatory creative journey of the Ancestor.
Almost all the works – 58 are reproduced – possess the particularity of having been created according to the ‘all over’ technique. This means that the canvas’s surface is painted over completely, right to the edges, closing in the composition in a determined manner and without any form of hierarchy between the centre and the sides. This is often the case with the youngest of the present Aboriginal artists, Alie Loy Kemarre, Gloria and Jeannie Petyarre, Barbara Weir, Lily Kelly Napangati and Ngoia Pollard Napaltjarri. But among the elders, many of whom are now deceased, one can notice the same phenomenon as with Emily Kame Kgnwarreye or Minnie Pwerle. Women Ceremony nd. By Minnie Pwerle is a partition consisting of five canvases, imposing, majestic, a symphony of vivid colours, a reminder of the ritual drawings painted on women’s bodies preparing them for ritual ceremonies and characteristics of ‘dreams’ of which Minnie had the “ownership”, such as The Melon Dream and the Grains of the Bush Melon. The themes are indissoluble and translated by circles, lines that are more or less thick, alternate movements of extremely rich colours.
However some of the works relate, more explicitly than others, a very special story and one may perceive the apparition of certain indications, generally because the vast majority of these canvases represent the landscapes of desert regions or that of the land where the artists themselves dwell. One could imagine that these are views often seen from high above certain geographical features such as, Swamps at Nyrripi, 2007 by Ngoia Pollard Napaltjarri or Uwalki: Tjuta-Tree Roots, 2005 by Mitjili Napurrula. A very strong link exists between the artist’s original region and his/her work which becomes a means of preserving memories, family culture and tradition.
The catalogue, as does the exhibition, has privileged the reconstitution of community groups that are the colonies of people to which the artists belong, or have belonged: Utopia, Papunya, Kintore, Kiwirrkurra, Yuendumu, Haast Bluff and Lajamanu. The whole region has been named the Central Deserts and Western Deserts of Australia. The totality of the collection is confined to this area. One must underline that the artists have not systematically lived in the same place but have moved successively to two or many other settlements, only returning, when it was possible, to their original locality. Therefore the distribution of the population in the settlements is in constant movement. It is question of a logical choice that has the advantage of a classification and a simplification for the presentation and the exhibition.
Gilbert Perlein October 2007
Translated by M. Sordello
The entirety of the works was created during the last decade, meaning that it is question of a young creation not concerning the actual age of the artists. For a number of years two collectors from Antibes, Marc Sordello and Francis Missana, have studied and researched in the Australian central deserts in order to select the best work done by the Aboriginal artists for their personal collection and pleasure. Their choices went towards the quality and the representations of the works demonstrating significance in innovation and aesthetics. The collection itself is progressive and we have watched it developing continually as the preparation of the project advanced. The works of two major artists from Balgo Hills, in the Central Desert, Eubena Nampitjin (c. 1920) and HelicopterTjungurrayi ( c. 1947 ) are not present in the exhibition as their works did not arrive in time.
The history of this population differs as compared to other sectors of colonization, nevertheless, more than elsewhere and certainly more than in the United States of America, the Australian aborigines have managed to save and give everlastingness to their unique culture. Their originality has been to change the way in which they passed on to the world their ancestral culture, so significant in meaning, and to render it accessible to the Western world. Our goal is to share with our public an aspect of contemporary Art, work that MAMAC has been developing over a number of years. It is indeed a fact that without the birth of modern art, and above all the abstract movement that emerged during the first third of the twentieth century, both in Europe and the United States, we would not possess the mental faculty to comprehend the universality of Aboriginal Art from the red desert centre of Australia. An analytic mind, a sharpness of vision, a reasonable comparison of different forms, lead us little by little to enter into a world of emotions and feelings that permit a better understanding of the Aboriginal Dreamtime and its recent Art. It is a discovery of the present day that offers us the faculty
to appreciate the total proximity and an astonishing complicity, rich in sensations. And the originality and freshness of these Aboriginal canvases express both an ancestral tradition dating back to the nights of time and a unique potential for innovation through which shine the universal foundations of the human spirit.