Aboriginal Bark Art - Techniques
As the art of Aboriginal bark painting evolved from the rock art tradition, it is no surprise that they share similar subject matter: human figures, animals, spirit beings, ceremonial designs and Dreaming stories. Bark, however, was a more sympathetic painting surface and offered artists a greater opportunity for detail and decoration. They exploited this through a style of visualization called 'x-ray-art' and a method of shading known as 'rarrk'.
DICK NGULEINGUELI MURRUMURRU
'Kangaroo' 1959 (earth pigments on bark)
© Dick Nguleingulei Murrumurru
X-Ray art is a style of Aboriginal painting that breaks down the subject's anatomy into sections, based on how it is butchered and utilized. Dick Nguleingulei Murrumurru, a former indigenous hunter, perfectly illustrates this analytical method in his painting of a male and female kangaroo.
The Aboriginal people are ethical hunters who do not waste any part of their prey. For example, if a Kangaroo is killed, the flesh is cooked and eaten, the skin, tendons and organs are dried to make clothing, cords and containers, and the bones are shaped to form tools and weapons. X-ray paintings acknowledge how an indigenous artist not only observes the exterior appearance of an animal, but also understands the nature of its musculoskeletal interior. These images are not meant to be accurate anatomical diagrams; they are elegant designs that illustrate a 'nose-to-tail' philosophy of sustainability and respect by not wasting any part of the animal.
JOHN MAWURNDJUL (b.1951)
Detail of 'rarrk' shading from 'Mardayin', 1998 (earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus Tetrodonta)
Rarrk is a style of cross-hatching that characterizes the bark paintings of Arnhem Land. It was originally painted on objects and bodies for ceremonial rites. When applied to bark paintings it invests the artwork with the spiritual power of its subject or story. Rarrk designs began as clan patterns which are identifiable through their configurations of color, but on more contemporary works they are also used for aesthetic effect.