One week Nicolas Rothwell is up, the next he’s down. Last week he was full of the potential of Tiwi artist Tim Cook to emulate the “modern Western master” the late Tony Tuckson, this week Aboriginal art has all gone to hell. Storm clouds are gathering, the society is dysfunctional, it’s all gone commercial, it’s become hybridised, and the art coordinators are all to blame. Revelatory indeed, and so beautifully expressed:
“And here, at last, we come to it, the unmentioned, all-darkening cloud. For the APY lands, as is well known, are plunged in social chaos. Destitution and anomie are the order of the day, each day; yet the region is the hearth of a cultural renaissance. These things fit together, in an unusual fashion. Painting in the APY communities is an escape, of course, and a crucial source of revenue: the work is made purely for sale. Most of the best-known artists are senior men and women, with large, demanding, dependent families.
Yet there is a sense in which the devastated human landscape almost calls forth the beauty of the art, as if by way of balance, or as a gesture that might provide a faint lifeline of cultural survival.
Just as intriguingly, the new art current is a hybrid phenomenon: the paintings come from studios overseen by mainstream art coordinators. The artists in the studios of the APY lands, for all their autonomy, are exquisitely sensitive to the guidance and suggestion they receive, however subliminal, and this responsiveness explains the speed with which their work has evolved to meet the market’s shifting tastes.
Thus these expressions of desert tradition and identity find a form that tracks the wider rhythms of the contemporary art landscape. It is impossible not to be struck by this pattern, which is closely matched by trends in much of the Kimberley and Arnhem Land; it [is] a phenomenon of the modern frontier between two very distinct cultural worlds.” (“Colours of an arid landscape,” Tues July 13, 2010, p18.)
Who, I ask, is the “we”? Certainly not “them”…
Follow the tags: cultural rennaissance, painting as escape, painting as a source of revenue, devastation and beauty, hybridity, taste. It’s like watching a ping-pong game on a black and white television set…