Tag Archives: linocuts

The Brian Robinson Mix

Working on culture in a post-colonial world is more than just cultural maintenance. The post-colonial experience of travelling between different cultures is reflected in the visual culture just like the music and stories. Brian Robinson is like a DJ, or a curator, he was a curator at the Cairns Regional Gallery; mixing and making new sense out of diverse elements. He creates a visual culture mix, like a DJ mixing different sources with a beat to create new music to keep on dancing to.

Brian Robinson makes the kind of art that is loved by judges and the people; the kind of art that art writers and curators enjoy to write about and he clearly enjoys tells the stories of his art. Robinson also clearly enjoys making images with linocut, paper, spray paint, plastic toys, wood and even a shell can be the image of a shell. Story-telling, the myths and legends, are based on visual images as well as a words and his pictures often say more than a thousand words.

I went to his ‘floor talk’ Saturday 21 June at the Counihan Gallery. Robinson shines with friendly, informal, relaxed manner and he has a lot to talk about mixing memories of childhood with detailed knowledge of literature, Greek myths, Roman Catholic, Phantom comic books and popular culture. See a video interview with Brian Robinson on Creative Cowboy.

Robinson is not scared to do the masters, he references them in his linocuts; Leonardo, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Hokusai’s Great Wave. Why should he be? Brian Robinson from Waiben (Thursday Island), Torres Strait, of the Kala Lagaw Ya language group. He is doing it Straits style, mixing in his own stories and he was the winner the 2013 Western Australian Indigenous Art Award and that year’s People’s Choice Award.

Robinson’s art is beautiful, often intricate but it can also be scaled up as in his massive, mixed media wall friezes. He a fan of the art of M.C. Escher and pays tribute to it in Dawn Raid Strategy, 2011. There is more to this image than just a tribute piece, it speaks of deadly strategies and games of chess. For above all his art is alive because he is playing – he must be a great dad except when he takes his kids toys to use in his art.

Robinson knows what it feels like to look for lost worlds under the sea. In his 2012 linocut, Navigating narrative – Nemo’s encounter in the Torres Strait, he creates an illustration for the one of the several chapters set in the Torres Straits in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.

“‘Savages!’ replied Captain Nemo in a sarcastic tone. ‘And you are surprised Dr Aronnax, that when you set foot on one of the lands of this globe, you find savages? Where are there not savages, and in any case, are those that you call savages any worse than the others?’”

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, trans William Butcher (Oxford, 1998, p.152)

There is so much to see and enjoy at Brian Robinson’s exhibition Strait Protean at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. The title says so much about the way the Robinson mixes images; Proteus is the ever changing adaptable sea god. Much of the work in the exhibition was developed during a twelve month long residency that Robinson had at Djumbunji Press in 2010, his skill with lino cutting has been refined and developed to an amazing level. His adaptable vision makes him not just an artist for the present but also for keeping the past alive into the future.


Lin Onus @ Counihan Gallery

Lin Onus: Meaning of Life at the Counihan Gallery is an exhibition of prints by Lin Onus. The exhibition also traces Lin Onus’s development, his “apprenticeship” in the Northern Territories, to when he had truly found his voice as an artist.

Onus’s voice is always humorous and graphically clear but when he started to combine “rarrk designs” with Western naturalism he found his unique style and vision. It is a vision that could be painting, sculpture, or prints.

The early linocuts are graphically clear and show that Onus had good design skills but they lack his unique voice. His screen-prints of animals, frogs, fish and turtles, are in his mature style. They are less intense powerful than his paintings but the subtle use of the limited colours makes them very attractive. Some of these prints are collaborations with Shaike Snir from Port Jackson Press. Then there are the full colour prints from the series: the adventures of Ray and X. These are images that will even appeal to small boys, or the child in each of us. They show that Onus was part of the contemporary world of comic books and graphic novels. Their mix of lo-brow art and high art is part of the post-modern mix.

I have enjoyed Lin Onus’ art for decades. And what is not to like about it? They are good paintings and sculptures without a didactic or preaching voice to them, but they are not without content. In the future I hope that his work will continue to grow in popularity and Onus will be seen as one of the great Australian artists of the late 20th Century.

Since the colonial establishment of mission stations for Aboriginal people, like Coranderrk, near Healesville, manufactured artefacts, like baskets, boomerangs and possum skin cloaks. Changes in European attitudes to the art of indigenous people in the 20th century slowly lead to an increased demand for Australian Aboriginal arts and craft. In the 1950s aboriginal activist, Bill Onus established a factory and shop, Aboriginal Enterprises, in Melbourne’s then outer suburb of Belgrave. Bill Onus not only established a significant shop but also set the conditions for his son to become a great contemporary artist.

McLintock Onus (Lin Onus) (1948 – 1996) was a Scottish-Aboriginal artist of Wiradjuri descent. He was in a perfect position to understand and depict a popular, post-colonial, post-modern world. A world with many view points rather than a single perspective. And he was in a perfect position to create post-colonial Aboriginal culture in contemporary media.

It is not an easy thing to be both post-modern and popular but Onus did it. His installation of fruit bats on a hills hoist is very popular, even amongst Australians who aren’t interested in either contemporary art or Aboriginal art. He found a way of interpreting traditional aboriginal art and stories into images that are popular and meaningful to the modern world.

Lin Onus: Meaning of Life is a touring exhibition by Maroondah Art Gallery that has been subtly and coherently curated by Damian Smith and Anthony Fitzpatrick. The exhibition is part of Moreland City Council’s celebration of NAIDOC week.


End of the Year

The end of this year brings the usual round of art student graduate exhibitions. And this year a few art sales.

I am disappointed that I missed the RMIT sculpture graduate’s show. I did see at 1st Site RMIT University printmaking graduate exhibition. There is a huge variety of print making techniques from digital prints to linocuts. Lilly Dusting’s etchings “Plate 6” are beautiful delicate views of the bottom of china plates complete with paper sticker and makers marks. In a different direction Kim Hudson’s screenprints “With love to the ones I love” is a punk freak-show, graphically crude but effective.

I also saw at No Vacancy the RMIT Graduate Photography Exhibition. There was very little to get excited about unless you were recruiting a photographer for an advertising agency. Most of the photographers appeared very focused on their careers.

In a sign of the global economic recession this year Mahoney’s Gallery is having a sale. I have never seen a sale at an art gallery before. The red sale signs are out the front and prices have been drastically marked down. Most of the art on sale are prints and photographs from their stockroom. The sale was not listed in Art Almanac; it has not been widely advertised. I have heard that there are other galleries recently having sales, from the Harrison Gallery in Sydney to 696 in Melbourne.

It is a myth of the art market that art does not devalue; it was another myth that house prices don’t devalue that lead to the current economic crisis. Art prices did decline during the Great Depression and it is likely that art prices will fall again in this international recession especially for the very expensive contemporary art. At the moment there are bargains in the art market and on the stock market for those who can afford it.

After this round of exhibitions most of Melbourne’s art galleries will close down until the end of the year. And there is still enough strength in Melbourne’s art market that next year more gallery spaces will open. 


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