Aboriginal culture can be traced back 60,000 to 80,000 years. The oldest evidence of Aboriginal ethos and culture is still visible in rock art dating back more than 20,000 years. Archaeologists have been able to date remains and discoveries from primal campsites as far back as 40,000 to 60,000 years
Because Aboriginal art has a regional flavour and style, different areas with different traditional languages approach art in unique ways. Much contemporary Aboriginal art can be identified by the community where it was created.
Naturalistic X-Ray Art
Aboriginal x-ray art is a traditional style primarily found in Arnhem Land in northern Australia. It’s the style in which local animals and stories are depicted. Many of the animals are painted in an x-ray to show some anatomical features, such as animals and humans’ bone structures and internal organs. This delicate depiction of this impressive figurative art creates a three-dimensional effect in the image. X-ray art demonstrates the artist’s connection to and understanding of his country and its people.
This is the art of the Wiradjuri people of south-east Australia, i.e. the people of the three rivers – Murrumbidgee, Lachlan and Maquarie. Characterised by the typical dot style, concentric circles, floral motifs, Amanda Hinkelmann is one of the few artists who embody this aesthetic, and she describes her work as textural, detailed, and dreamy. Her goal is to convey the softness and beauty of her Aboriginal culture while also telling important stories. Others frequently describe the Amanda Hinkelmann artwork as having movement and being fluid.
Wandjinas are found only in the Kimberley region of north-eastern Western Australia; they are not found elsewhere in Australia. They are deeply spiritual to the people of this region, the Mowanjum, who speak three languages: Worrorra, Ngarinyin, and Wunumbal. Wandjinas have large eyes, like a storm’s eye, but no mouth. They are said to lack mouths because having one would make them too powerful. They are frequently depicted wearing elaborate headdresses that represent various types of storms.
These works, known as Rarrk paintings in Northern Australia, are thought to have great spiritual power. Kunwinjku Aboriginal art is distinguished by the rarrk. Fine-line cross-hatching is used to depict sea creatures and reptiles like barramundi, turtles, and water reptiles. To meticulously paint the rarrk’s fine detail, hair-like bristles found inside the stem of a reed are used, or human hair itself. It was originally a traditional ceremonial painting, and Kunwinjku artists use rarrk to represent these traditions today.
Painting with Dots
The paintings of Central Australia take on a more abstract style, derived from sacred designs used in ceremonies. Dot painting ranges from the finest of dot work made with thin sticks to larger bolder dots forming a variety of designs ranging from earthy to very colourful dots. Most people associate Aboriginal Art with this style. It evolved from body painting (dots) and ground paintings in dance ceremonies, which were then transferred to canvas in the 1970s during the Papunya Tula Art Movement.
This amazing style of Aboriginal art is surrounded by controversy, intrigue, conflicting information, and confusion. Much research has gone into determining the origins of these figures, and a definitive answer may never be possible. A number of Indigenous groups from the area where the Bradshaws are found believe they are not the work of the Aboriginal people, but rather predate their arrival in Australia and were copied by them.
Bradshaw figures are symmetrical, mystical, and occasionally depicted with detailed head-wear, such as the distinct cone shapes and “knots” that depict an opulent and refined style. Bradshaws are also depicted in their artworks hunting and performing ceremonial dances, and Kevin Wainer adds an amazing touch by including hand prints in many of his works.
Ochre is more of a medium than a style, but because it generates its own style, I still wanted to include it in this list. Ochre is indigenous to Arnhem Land and east Kimberley. Ochre is a type of hard clay that occurs naturally in a variety of colours including red, pink, yellow, white, and occasionally blue.
The majority of ochre is found between the Kimberley region of Western Australia and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory’s centre. To make paint, it is ground to a powder and mixed with saliva, egg, water, or animal fat.
Many other colours are created by combining white with different pigments, such as human or animal blood or plant pollen. It is the oldest type of paint used in Australia, with some touch-ups dating back thousands of years. Rock art has been around for over 60,000 years!
Bush Medicine Leaves
Bush Medicine Leaves is a well-documented dreaming story painted by the Utopia women artists in Central Australia. The subject’s flowing motion and undulating rhythm reflect the significance of bush medicine leaves in traditional Aboriginal culture. This beautiful style was made famous by Gloria Petyarre’s winning artwork in the coveted Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 1999.