Yabbering with Anzus 4

A recent enquiry from a collector expressed concern that his Seven Sisters painting by Reggie Sultan was a fake. He had bought his Reggie Sultan painting in Alice Springs as an original and he saw a Reggie sultan painting very similar to his on my website www.aboriginalartgalleries.com

The authenticity of any painting is very important and is why most aboriginal art galleries will offer a certificate guaranteeing the provenance of the work being sold. South East Asian sweat shops continue to turn out thousands of copies of so called “aboriginal art”. These fake paintings and other fake objects are mostly sold in gift shops, tourist outlets and large internet auction houses at low prices.

The collector’s concern was understandable. The painting in question is very attractive and pride of ownership in such paintings is an important issue. The collector needed clarification about the authenticity of his painting and I was pleased to be able to inform him that both of the paintings were originals.

Aborigines are restricted by aboriginal law in the number of subjects they can paint. What an artist can depict depends on their own place in aboriginal society, their language group, their own particular “totem” and Dreaming stories. In western terms, this is equivalent to being only allowed to paint their own intellectual property. They are forbidden to paint any subject from outside their own country, or part of their own culture. As a result of these laws, aborigines paint only a few subjects, but paint them over and over. However this law breaks down for aborigines living outside traditional areas such as inner Sydney and Melbourne.

Reggie Sultan is an interesting bloke and I will write about him in the future. He had to change the Seven Sisters story, a woman’s story, and make it unisex. Reggie’s version makes a great painting. See it above and then check my website to compare it with other Seven Sisters paintings by other artists.

Other examples which show aboriginal artists painting a subject over and over are Gloria Petyarre’s “Leaves”, Walala Tjapaltjarri’s “Tingari Dreaming” and Barbara’ Weir’s “Grass”. These artists all paint other topics too. The repetition does not mean that the paintings are not original, or that they are copies. Each painting is just another interpretation of the subject being painted.

Yabbering with Anzus 3

When I was a young bloke escaping every summer from both Melbourne and my parents, I was always amazed at how big the sky was in outback Australia. The further north I went, the bigger the sky. Night time was even more spectacular. One could lie out by the fire, which we hoped would keep the snakes away, and believe that if one just stretched out a little towards the stars it would be possible to touch them. They were magic, so large, so clear and so bright.

It is no wonder that the first aborigines included the stars in their Dreaming stories. When western art materials became readily available, these Dreaming stories were quickly put on canvas. One story common to aboriginal language groups all over Australia is the Seven Sisters story. The Seven sisters are represented by the stars comprising the Pleiades Constellation. They are chased across the sky every night by a male figure represented by Orion, the North Star.

Depending on the locality, the seven sisters can be just seven simple girls wandering around looking for food, or perhaps water girls or sky women. The man pursuing them was usually old, sometimes lazy or hungry, sometimes noble, sometimes sly and sometimes just a hunter. Magic and fire are both common in the stories and often become an important part of the story. The fires carried into the sky by the sisters become the stars. Magic, or the Spirits are the means by which the sisters escape up into the sky.

The Seven Sisters Story is a woman's story and most of the artists who paint the story are women. When the artist is male, the man chasing the sisters is usually a more noble character, a hunter for instance. Sexism perhaps? My website, www.aboriginalartgalleries.com has several Seven Sisters paintings. The paintings are by many different artists, both male and female and have been sourced from all over Australia. Each painting tells a different version of the story.

Yabbering with Anzus 2

When I founded the Anzus Aboriginal Art Gallery in Palo Alto, California in 2003, my mission was then and still is, to display and promote Australian indigenous art to American art lovers. As the owner of a specialist gallery I am often assumed to be an expert in the field and as a result I often get asked questions. Sometimes I can even answer them. Recently I received a letter from an art lover who told me that he had had to defend Contemporary Aboriginal Art (dot painting) from a critic who said that it was not authentic aboriginal art because it was not Traditional Aboriginal Art.

By "not authentic" the critic meant that contemporary paintings did not follow traditional aboriginal art forms. Traditional art however follows many forms that range from carving of wood and stone, weaving, painting on cave walls and bark, using natural earth pigments mixed with a variety of substances. Traditional aboriginal art is the worlds oldest continuing art form and dates back more than 30,000 years. Contemporary art for the most part is painted on canvas using acrylic paint, follows diverse styles and dates back to 1971. It began in that year at the school in the Papunya aboriginal community.

Previously there had been examples of aborigines painting in the western style and using western materials. Examples include William Barak's drawings in the nineteenth century and Albert Namatjira's beautiful watercolors from the mid twentieth century.

In 1971, at Papunya, north west of Alice Springs in the Northern territory, school teacher Geoffrey Barden provided some students with some acrylic paint. At first they painted on walls and the doors and then on canvas, boards and anything they could get their hands on. The paintings did not follow western styles, but instead followed the stories and spirituality in the method of their traditional art. A group of twenty of these young men went on to form the Papunta-Tula art movement which continues today.

It was not until the 1980s that the movement spread to other aboriginal communities located around Alice Springs. By the 1990s, the art movement had spread around the whole of Australia. The different aboriginal language groups each painting their own story in their own style. You can see these various styles on my website at www.aboriginalartgalleries.com and ask any questions you may have.

Yabbering with Anzus 1

Writing about myself, my past adventures, and all the successes and failures, is something I have always refused to do. Talk yes, but writing about them is a new experience for me, so please bear with me. Since I founded the Anzus Aboriginal Art Gallery in 2003 I have been constantly asked questions about aboriginal art and how I became involved. Sometimes I can answer these questions and sometimes I can't, but I always do my best. The question of how I became involved with aboriginal art is neither simple nor easy to answer.

I first came in contact with aborigines and was exposed to their art and culture when, as a difficult out of control teenager, I ran wild and free in Australia's tropical deep north. This occurred during my summers, when to escape Melbourne, my parents and the beaches at Portsea and Lorne, I went north and lived and worked in outback mining and cattle towns. People today have no idea of just how tough those places were then, but will appreciate that I very quickly learned that the best way to win a fight was by 100 yards.

After I graduated from university I set off to see the world. I traveled on my own, overland from Australia to England using  only local transport. I was the first person to ever to make this dangerous trip using only local buses, trains and ferries. I visited more than eighty countries and ended up in jail in only twelve of them. Most of my troubles occurred while crossing borders, or through my own stupidity. The good things I learned, I passed on to the new overland tour companies which were being set up in the 1960s. In general they all followed my route and advice on how and where to go.  During my later professional, business and political life it always seemed to me that it was better that my adventures should not be written down. Today however most of the people my writings may offend are probably dead and so I now feel free to write.

When I arrived in London after the overland trip I was still 6 feet tall, but weighed only 60 kilos, a little over 130 pounds. I had planned to do some post graduate studies at Cambridge, but a combination of factors saw me hit the road again. Actually I took a boat which sailed from Liverpool and ended up in New York. In an attempt to salvage my plans of studying at Cambridge, I hitch hiked across the U.S. looking for an American university that would have me. I ended up in San Francisco with eighteen scholarship offers which I had picked up along the way. Hitch hiking must have been a lot easier then.

After an active life during which I collected and supported art, I went back to the top end as a tourist in 2003 and completed a full circle. I was exposed to aboriginal art again, particularly the new contemporary art movement which was in full swing. I graduated once more, this time, from art collector to gallery owner. If you like the work of Australian artists, check out my website,  www.aboriginalartgalleries.com. See what the paintings are all about and please, ask me any questions you may have.