Last year’s blockbuster exhibition of the history of Australian art at The British Museum has reignited interest in the UK in the art and culture of the First Australians. Half a world away, the place of Aborigine artists in contemporary visual culture is not well know here, but at The Chromologist we have become hypnotised with the meditative quality of the work of Angelina Pwerle, whose take on Aboriginal myths manifests in paintings of striking depth and rich colour.
Angelina was born in 1947 in Utopia, an area of Aboriginal freehold land situated to the north east of Alice Springs, Australia. The area of Utopia itself is fascinating. Remote, and , it is currently home to around 250 professional Aboriginal artists, by far the largest form of employment in this region. Angelina herself was not only married to an artist, but both her sisters are also professional painters. Her work is known in particular for her bold and adventurous use of colour. The local land provides many artists with a traditional palette of red, yellow, white and deep purple and mauve ochres, with vivid magenta or light purple created by adding white pigment. However acrylic paints were introduced to the artistic community in the last few decades, resulting in even more adventurous and lively colour used on canvases.
Angelina’s paintings are created with thousands of dots of colours formed with the pointed end of a bamboo stick, and as this fascinating video shows, creating the highly detailed work is both a sedative process and, in some form, a performance too. The resulting images can be read as referencing both local landscape topography and also the cosmos. In a similar vein to the overwhelming dot paintings of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, the craft and concentration involved in creating the images is both soothing to the painter and the viewer without offering any direct representation. Instead you are invited to fall deeper and deeper into the rich colour palette and the micro-matrix of tiny points.
All of Angelina’s work is inspired by The Dreamtime, the Aboriginal creation story which refers to a time before living memory when spirits from land and sky created the landscape and animals of Australia. These images specifically deal with the Bush Plum, an edible shrub found throughout Northern Australia which, due to its importance as food, has its own Dreamtime story. Angela’s use of the Bush Plum as a motif and subject is, she says, a way of aping “the whole thing” and the story of the whole country.