Aboriginal Paintings come in many different sizes, forms, styles, mediums and prices. The paintings vary as widely as the people who paint them. Australia is a vast country and this has led to great differences between Indigenous people of different areas. This is reflected heavily in their paintings.
Whilst there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to Aboriginal paintings, there are some distinguishing factors that enable us to loosely group Aboriginal paintings together. Please understand though that the information on this page is a generalisation to be used as a beginners guide to Aboriginal paintings.
The styles in each region can also vary greatly within that region and there are many situations where styles overlap or contradict the generalisations outlined here. We will be adding more information in greater detail on the styles of Aboriginal Paintings throughout each region in the near future. The information on this page is a good start for someone who wants to learn a little bit about Aboriginal paintings.
Aboriginal Paintings: Central / Western Desert
Aboriginal paintings from the Central and Western Desert region of Australia are mainly painted using Acrylic paints. These are the kind of paints available in most art supply stores. They are usually painted on canvas and sometimes linen. Several of the distinguishing features of Aboriginal Paintings from these areas are the bright colours and intricate dotting.
Aboriginal Paintings: The Kimberley
Aboriginal Paintings from the Kimberley region of Western Australia are vastly different. Paintings from this region are usually painted using ochre paint, also known as natural earth pigments. Ochre is derived from the ground and is completely natural. The Ochre is then mixed and blended to create different colours. This is by no means easy and the ability to mix ochre is an art form that can make a massive difference to the finished painting.
Ochre has a much thicker and sometimes rougher texture than acrylic paint. Ochre is what the Aboriginals used when painting on rocks and in caves and what they applied to their body for ceremonies. Because of the thickness and the crusty texture of a lot of ochre pigments, Aboriginal paintings painted with this medium can not be rolled like acrylic artworks and must remain stretched as the ochre can crack if rolled. Ochre paint is extremely durable and long lasting though.
Remember, there are many rock and cave paintings that have lasted well over 30,000 years. Naturally, ochre Aboriginal paintings are usually made up of strong earthy tones and colours with striking reds, yellows and blacks. Expert artists are able to mix the ochres though to create soft pinks, greens and yellows as well.
The style of paintings from the “top end” is one of the most distinguishable of all the styles of Aboriginal paintings. These intricate, crosshatched images tell the story of ancestral transformations and traditional scenes featuring mythical spirit beings. You will also notice that often the native animals are depicted as x-ray with their bones and internal organs showing through. Paintings from Arnhem Land are often undertaken on bark.
Before other mediums such as canvas was widely available, Aboriginal Artists would often paint their stories on bark to sell or give as presents to the white man. Bark paintings such as this date back to the 1930’s and the tradition has continued to this day.
Aboriginal Paintings on bark are now considered “fine art” and often are considered extremely valuable due to their fragile nature.
Paintings on paper are also very popular from this region as well as screen printings. Arnhem Land paintings are one of the few styles that may look more aesthetically pleasing when mounted behind glass.
Arnhem Land aboriginal artists are also famous for their weavings made of bark, hairstring and grasses as well as spectacular sculptures.
This information page on Aboriginal paintings is an ongoing project that will be added to consistently. Please check back soon for more information as we delve deeper into the different styles of paintings from the many different regions of Aboriginal Australia.