I have recently come across an article that was written some time ago that covers the history of Australian Aboriginal tribal art and its emergence from the communities and stations of the outback onto the main stage of world fine art. The article, written by Carly Berwick, was published in ArtNews.com. It was based on a show of collector John Wilkerson’s 50 works of Australian Aboriginal art, which toured the US.
Entitled, Collecting the Dots, the article charts the history of Australian Aboriginal art in the commercial marketplace. In 1971, an English schoolteacher encouraged schoolchildren in the northwestern territory community of Papunya to paint on the walls of their concrete block homes.
In short order, the tribal elders became so excited about seeing their ancient dreamtime stories portrayed that they joined in. Soon, the paintings evolved to masonite boards and canvases. Palettes evolved from natural ochre, charcoal and chalk to acrylics and commercial colors.
The designs, which were not called “art” by the Aboriginal artists - there is no word for art in any Aboriginal language – began to merge into perceptions of modernism, although they were rooted in the timeless stories passed down from generation to generation telling of the Creation, or Dreamtime. Often called "Dreamings", the stories describe the arrival on the face of the earth by ancient ancestors, and of their interaction with the landscape and geography.
Captivated collectors, such as Wilkerson and Richard Kelton, began to acquire the works of the “mob”, as the desert painters were called. These works by the likes of Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula, Mick Namararri Tjapaltjarri, Shorty Lungkarla and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri became the core of a show that began to tour the
Early paintings, for which as little as US$80 or less was paid, laid the groundwork for auction results which began to amaze the art world. In 2007, a work from 1977 by Clifford Possum has hammered down at US$2 million in a Sotheby’s Auction in
Granted that Clifford Possum had taken the genre to new concepts with that painting, “Warlugulong”, which portrayed the total of Possum’s Dreamings as a map seen from above in a huge canvas.
I encourage you to visit ArtNews Archives to read the entire story.
But first, a side trip to a tale of two collectors who were active in Australian Aboriginal art at about the same time. Susanne and I began our collection in the late 1970s, traveling to
But this is not about our travels. It is about our relationship with the art.
In the meantime we had moved to
Little did we appreciate that we were in the vanguard of Australian Aboriginal art’s growing world-wide popularity. All we knew was that we had several paintings by outstanding Aboriginal artists, works that bring beauty and grace to our lives and home.
PS: Shortly after Hurricane Charley smashed into Sanibel and