Ochre Aboriginal Art of the East Kimberley

aboriginal art ochre image


Aboriginal people throughout Australia have always used ochre for ceremonial body painting, traditional rituals & as a paint for artefacts & message diagrams associated with their nomadic lifestyle.

The first Australian Aboriginal art collected by European people was in the form of ochre on eucalyptus bark, long before the use of canvas & linen & acrylic paints. The artists of the Kimberley region of Western Australia have carried on the tradition, using natural ochres/earth pigments for artworks now represented in modern homes & institutions worldwide.

The collection & preparation of the raw ochre is incredibly time consuming, & the blending of a myriad of colours for the depiction of the landscape artworks indicative of the Kimberley area requires knowledge & dedication.  Natural Ochre pigment is found in many different colours throughout the world; however, the basic colours in the Kimberley region are red, black, yellow, brown & white. The artists are able to blend these pigments to make all the other colours required for the artwork.  Some ochre is heated up, with the varying temperatures resulting in the depth of colour achieved.

Once ground & prepared, the ochre is mixed with a binder & the artist is ready to commence painting.  In the early days, commercial binders were not available, & the original ochre painters used many natural binders such as garliwun (tree resin), bush honey, egg yolks & kangaroo blood.

The thickness of the palette of the ochre used is dependent upon the desired result of the artwork.  Some artists favour thick palette ochre showing a great deal of grain”, others a finely powdered ochre to achieve a translucent effect. The original ochre Masters would prepare the canvas with ochre, leave to dry & then rub back with a flat stone to achieve extremely minimal ochre imaging. The ochre, being a natural pigment, is not affected by direct light, is extremely durable in all temperatures & climates.

The acquisition of a work executed in ochre medium ensures the purchaser of a Traditional, enduring & very special part of Aboriginal Culture.

The History of Ochre

The history of the use of ochre is fascinating.  Ochre was one of the first pigments to be used by human beings. Pieces of haematite (a compact form of iron oxide), worn down as though they had been used as crayons, have been found at 300,000 year old sites in France & Czechoslovakia.  Ochre natural earth pigments are evidenced all over the world. The oldest record of mining activity, at the “Lion Cave” in Swaziland, is a 43,000 year old ochre mine.  Ochre is mentioned in the Book of Genesis, was a popular colouring in France during the time of the French Empire to beautify architecture & in ancient Egypt, red Ochre was used as a rouge, or lip gloss.