Aboriginal Art – One of the Oldest Art Forms in the World Becoming Commercial

By Michiel Van Kets 2009

Without a doubt, Australian Aboriginal Art is a form of art that has had a huge impact around the world. Robert Hughes is a prominent art critic and long time writer for Time Magazine and describes Aboriginal Art as the ‘last great art movement’.

What makes that statement so significant is Australian Aboriginal Art is one of the oldest forms of Art anywhere on the planet yet as an art style commercially it is one of the youngest.

Ancient Rock Art found in some of the remotest parts of Australia date back 30,000 to 40,000 years. However, as a saleable commodity, this form of art has only really been available since the 70’s.

The unification of ancient custom and practice and the originality of Aboriginal Art emerging on the international art market, has produced a huge reaction through the art world as it is realized as a discovery that will never be seen again.

Aboriginal Artists have actually been selling their unusual artwork since before the 1930’s, not yet known to the international market it remained contained within Australia seen only by those who happened to be travelling through the remote parts of the country and discovered it for themselves.

Generally, artwork produced from these times was created on bark. Canvas was not introduced to the Aborigines until the early 70’s when Geoffrey Bardon, a graduate of the National Art School, took on a teaching job at Papunya, an isolated Aboriginal settlement 250 km west of Alice Springs.

Bardon noticed the people at Papunya drawing images and stories in the sand. Bardon persuaded them to do the same but using various materials to preserve it, such as paper, the doors at the school and eventually transferring them to canvas.

Bardon worked alongside the Aboriginal painters and, in the early 70’s, the Papunya Tula painting movement was founded. Bardon dedicated many years of his life to recording and supporting the art he respected so much. He was instrumental in establishing the art centre at Papunya and with it the last great art movement began.

From Papunya, Aboriginal Art found its way to Central Australia, Kimberley in Western Australia and up to the north of Australia in Arnhem Land, as well as the Tiwi Islands. Now recognized all over Australia, Aboriginal communities all over the country share their history and culture through art to anyone who is interested.

There is a huge difference in Aboriginal Art styles as each area of Australia is distinctive and totally separate from other parts of the country, each has their own unique traditions, culture, and stories to tell.

Aboriginal Art is not only the leading art style in Australia today, but also one of the most significant globally with major works of art by Aboriginal artists hanging in famous art galleries, auction houses and private collections.

Since its emergence commercially in the 70’s and steady growth through the 80’s, Aboriginal Art has burst onto the international Art landscape.

As demand rises and international art fanatics start to understand its unique history as one of the oldest and youngest styles of art at the same time, the realization that it just may be the last great art movement ever discovered is remarkable.

Michiel van Kets provides article services for Scott Linklater, one of four family members who make up the team from Artlandish Aboriginal Art gallery in Kununurra Western Australia. The company has the largest online Aboriginal Art gallery in the world. For information on Australian Aboriginal art and Aboriginal artists visit the website.

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