Even when he’s writing at his best, positively, with seemingly genuine enthusiasm about a (relatively) young Indigenous artist, News Limited’s Nicolas Rothwell can’t help but invoke the figure of impending death. Here he is writing about the inspired Jilamara artist, Timothy Cook, who is working at the height of his powers. And yet The Roth feels the need to invoke the hereafter:
An inclination to dwell on death’s transforming touch and the life beyond can also be traced in Cook’s routine conversations while at work at Jilamara. Often, he tells art centre co-ordinator Cher Breeze of his anxieties about the moment of his entry into heaven. How will people know him there, how will they recognise him? He has a plan: to take a painting with him, stored in his coffin, so his mother will be sure it’s him when he arrives.
Should such intimacies be chattered about in the press? Why does this particular aspect of an artist’s concerns fascinate Nicolas so? And should your Iconophile worry about this theme in The Roth’s writings? Only because he has been banging this drum for years. Read on…
And P.S. In the same article The Roth perpetuates another myth of Australian art history:
Cook’s own work increasingly is compared with canvases by the modern, Western master who commissioned those same poles for the gallery, Tony Tuckson, a painter whose use of line and colour field weaves a net of associations between contemporary and indigenous art-making.
What kind of weird retro-projection is this? Sure, Tuckson was a key figure in the recognition of Indigenous artefacts as art, but to his credit there’s no iconographic or other evidence that Tuckson’s own work evoked the art he so admired. Sorry, Nicolas, that’s just sloppy art history. And anyway, what does it mean to compare a contemporary artist’s work with a “modern, Western master” who last painted four decades ago? When artist B is neither a postmodernist nor knows anything of artist A, and we’re not into channeling, not just yet. Projection (a Theory for Troubled Minds) such as this says more about outsiders’ own inclinations to meddle with the history of Indigenous art, and to validate their own tastes, retrospectively.