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The Different Styles of Aboriginal Art

There is evidence to suggest that the art produced by Australian Aboriginals is some of the oldest art ever consistently produced, and with this impressive span of time comes a huge assortment of arts styles. With Dreamtime being the primary source of inspiration for Aboriginal art, it is through these paintings that education and awareness of the Dreamtime is made possible alongside traditional storytelling methods. With so many interesting and important stories to tell, there are many forms of Aboriginal art, but many are unfortunately unknown. In this article we take a look at some of the different characters and styles of Aboriginal art and how they are related to different cultural areas around Australia.

The different art produced in different regions

The form that Aboriginal art takes is highly dependent on the region it is created in. Aboriginal dot paintings, for instance – perhaps the art style that most people identify with Aboriginal culture – are found only in the Central and Western desert of Australia. Central Australian paintings are more abstract than other styles found in Australia and originate from the sacred designs that have been used in ceremonies for thousands of years. The forms the dots take are highly variable, and can range from fine dots applied with the points of small sticks to thick, bold dots applied with larger pieces of wood. Designs of the dots themselves can vary significantly, with colours ranging from deep earthy shades to bright, colourful dots. In Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, Aboriginal x-ray art is another traditional painting style that uses simple techniques to great effect. X-ray art involves animals and stories being painted in an anatomical sense, such as with bone structures and internal organs – hence the x-ray name.

More unique styles

Rarrk paintings, sometimes known as cross-hatching, is a style of painting that is unique to the Aboriginal art of the Kunwinjku in Northern Australia. Believed by the Kunwinjku to hold great spiritual power, this style of painting is often used to depict sea creatures and reptiles, which typically include barramundi, turtles and water reptiles. To achieve the fine strokes in this style, fine bristles found inside reed stems or human hair are used. Historically rrark painting was used in traditional ceremonies, and today it is still used in the same way to uphold these traditions. Wandjina art is found nearby in the Kimberley region in north-eastern Western Australia. While Wandjinas have large eyes, they have no mouths as it is believed it would make them far too powerful. The large eyes are meant to represent the eye of a storm, with different headdresses  representing different types of storms.

Aboriginal ochre art

To finish, we’re going to touch on ochre Aboriginal art, as while it is more a medium than a style, it is still incredibly important. Originating from Arnhem Land and east Kimberley, examples of art made with ochre have been found that are thousands of years old. Ochre is a naturally-occurring hard clay that can be found in a variety of painting colours, such as red, pink, yellow, white and blue. First ground to a powder, it is subsequently  mixed with saliva, egg, water or animal fat to make a paint. And there you have it – a broad look at a few of the most interesting and meaningful art ever produced in Australia.

About the author

Oliver Revilo