Traditional symbols are an essential part of much contemporary Aboriginal art. Aboriginal people have long artistic traditions within which they use conventional designs and symbols. These designs when applied to any surface, whether on the body of a person taking part in a ceremony or on a shield, have the power to transform the object to one with religious significance and power. Through the use of designs inherited from ancestors, artists continue their connections to country and the Dreaming.
Dreamtime was in the past, but it is the Aborigines present religion and culture. The saying, 'As it was done in the Dreamtime, so it must be done today,' dominates all aspects of aboriginal behaviour. Because of their beliefs in 'the dreaming,' ceremonies and rituals are held, stories are told, pictures are drawn, and daily life is defined.
In order to understand the religion of the Aborigines, one must have a basic understanding of the organization of the tribes. All men and women belong to small groups, called clans. Each clan posses a distinct body of spiritual properties, or sacred sites.
For example, body decoration using ancestral designs is an important part of many ceremonies. In central Australia inherited designs are painted onto the face and body using ochres ground to a paste with water and applied in stripes or circles. The modern paintings of the Central and Western Desert incorporate many of these designs. While the most commonly used symbols are relatively simple, they can be used in elaborate combinations to tell more complex stories. For example, a Water Dreaming painting might show a U shaped symbol for a man, sitting next to a circle or concentric circles representing a waterhole, and spiral lines showing running water. The painter is telling the story of the power of the water man to invoke rain. Further symbols will add to the depth of meaning. Today artists often refer to the 'outside' story which they provide for the general public while the painting retains an 'inside' story accessible only to those with the appropriate level of knowledge.
Dots are one of the conventional symbols widely used and for many non-Aboriginal people these are what give Central and Western Desert art its distinctive character. Dots may represent many things - including stars, sparks or burnt ground. The base or floor of any Aboriginal design or painting is the preparation of the earth, or the ancestor being's involvement with the earth.
As the Papunya painting movement developed in the 1970s, dotting was increasingly used to obscure meanings and to hide some of the symbolism that was not meant to be exposed to the un-initiated. It is therefore ironic that the technique of using dots, that many Western people regard as characteristic of contemporary Central and Western Desert art, should have as a major function the obscuring of meaning. Rather than reveal their secrets to the marketplace, the artists developed ways of avoiding or hiding the sacred.
Collecting Australian Aboriginal Art
"Aboriginal art is richly rewarding for the collector"
Described by renowned Australian art critic, Robert Hughes, as belonging to ‘the world's last great art movement', collectors of art from this extraordinary ancient but vibrant living culture have, in recent years, fuelled a boom in sales. Prices at auction have skyrocketed, and those who entered the market early have enjoyed great returns on their investments.
In 2006, Emily Kame Kngwarreye's Earth's Creation achieved a record of AUS $1,056,000 at auction; the first million dollar plus sale at a Lawson-Menzies auction. Last year, Clifford Possum's epic Warlugulong was sold at Sotheby's to the National Gallery of Australia for AUS $2.4 million.
Swept along by the wave of this success, and the expectations of rich rewards from investing in Aboriginal art, art aficionados have mined their savings for a piece of the action and purchased Aboriginal art for their superannuation and investment portfolios. This has been reflected in industry statistics which show that in 2007, secondary art market sales exceeded AUS $25 million; and over recent years well over 40 records have been broken for the top performing artists.
Today, however with the impact of the global financial meltdown being all pervasive, sales in all sectors - including Aboriginal art - have dropped. Within this context, however, it's well to remember that art provides a very stable haven for funds; if purchased wisely art can be a source of excellent return.
Today's climate therefore is a great time to start collecting. It offers collectors a rare opportunity to buy well at auction and also through galleries.
Outstanding living artists whose work fetches good prices include Judy Watson, Dorothy Napangardi, George Tjungurrayi, Kathleen Petyarre, Ningura Naparrula, Makinti Napanangka, Lily Kelly Napangardi, Elizabeth Nyumi Nungurrayi, John Mawurndjul and Billy Whiskey Tjapaltjarri.
Emerging artists within the secondary market - those representing good value as their price tags are still affordable - include Regina Wilson, Tjayangka Woods, Jack Dale, Helen McCarthy Tyalmuty, Kudditji Kngwarreye, Paddy Simms, Anganampa Martin, Walangkura Napanangka, Wingu Tingima, Lorner Fencer and Eubena Nampitjin.
But how do you begin collecting Aboriginal art? Before taking the plunge, savour first the pleasure you are about to enjoy. I strongly advise that this be an adventure of the heart; that you buy because you're passionately in love with the work you wish to purchase. This is because, in the end, your artwork will be a constant companion; you will more that likely see it every day.
It's also well to remember that the promises of your collecting adventure will not just be aesthetic ones. As an owner of an Aboriginal painting, you step into a world said to be at least 40,000 years old; one that that draws from the most ancient if not the most fascinating living culture on the planet today.
"Aboriginal Art Investment Time is Now"
Aboriginal art auction sales and prices are back on the rise after being understandably subdued for the last 18 months as a result of the Global Financial Crisis.
Sales of Aboriginal artworks were impressively brisk at Sotheby's recent Australian auction in Melbourne. At this auction last Monday night (20th July), sales totalled over 70% of the estimated value of the items on offer. This certainly stands in jubilant contrast to the 45% success rate of Sotheby's Aboriginal art auction in October, 2008. Last October was an all-time low in percentage of sales by value. However, that auction nine months ago proved to be the bottoming-out of the market.
So the current positive trend in Aboriginal art sales is displaying a decidedly upward trajectory with the important note that sales and prices will continue to increase to what may very well prove to be new record highs within the next two to five years.
What this also means is that if you're considering making an Aboriginal art investment, the next 12 months would be an ideal time from a pragmatically financial standpoint. "