Aboriginal Rock Art - The Development of Imagery
Aboriginal Rock Art - X-Ray Style
Gabarnmung, Arnhem Land, Northern Australia
Aboriginal rock art sites display engravings and paintings of graphic symbols, human figures, tribal ceremonies, animals, plants, and the ancestral spirits who govern the forces of nature and the cosmos.
Over the millennia the oldest examples of rock art that were created by prehistoric artists have been reworked and overdrawn by successive generations of indigenous artists up to and including the 20th century. This gives rise to an extraordinary artistic scenario where a late Palaeolithic artist begins a drawing, which is then passed on to a Neolithic artist to continue, then to successive artists from the time of the Ancient Egyptians, the Ancient Greeks, the Early Christian and Byzantine eras, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance and through every stage of the art history timeline up to the modern era. If a similar phenomenon existed in Western art, it would be prized and protected for future generations. Sadly however, many Aboriginal rock sites are under multiple threats from natural erosion, pollution, vandalism, mining, developers, and a lack of general maintenance and legal protection.
Aboriginal Rock Art - Hand Stencils
Mt. Borradaile, Arnhem Land, Northern Australia
The earliest rock art images communicate visual information about the Aboriginal way of life. Engraved dot rings and animal tracks are typical of the most ancient examples. At a later period, we begin to see simple paintings of animals, fish, birds and matchstick figures. Hand stencils were often used to assert tribal status or lay claim to territory. The artist would simply place their hand on the wall, take a mouthful of pigment and spray it over their hand leaving a negative imprint. Over time the imagery of rock art grew in sophistication to include more elaborate figures involved in customary activities such as hunting, fishing, fighting and trading. The depiction of animals also became more complex using a cutaway 'X-Ray style' to reveal the internal organs and musculoskeletal form of the creatures.
Aboriginal Rock Art - Paintings of Ships from Different Periods
Djulirri, Arnhem Land, Northern Australia
(click on the flip icon to view)
This 'X-Ray' style was also be applied to inanimate objects. In the photograph above, you can see the painting of a European sailing ship (c.1765-1813) whose side has been cutaway to reveal a cross-section of its hull. It has been painted over a giant turtle from several thousand years earlier. The image is from the Djulirri rock site, one of the best in Australia with over 3000 paintings. In some areas of the site there are up to twenty layers of images that have been built up over the past 15000 years, with some examples as recent as fifty years ago. One of the highlights of Djulirri is its paintings of ships from different ages (click on the flip icon to view). There are twenty-eight vessels in total which suggest an extensive Aboriginal contact with foreign visitors. As Djulirri is about 12 kilometres from the sea, these vessels were obviously not drawn from first-hand observation and are therefore a testament to the visual memory and skill of the artists.