The Exhibition has a number of themes running through it.
There are a large number of paintings which were inspired by three visits to Australia. The country, or the vast expanse that is Australia, is quite breath taking. I was lucky to travel all over from North to South and to the arid red centre. The thing that impressed me was the spirit of the colonising Europeans, who managed to create this vibrant society in such a short time. I was interested in the large Greek and Italian presence in places like Melbourne. They had their stories to tell and their stories were compelling. These are beautifully told in the museum of immigration in Melbourne. They were moving…But something emerged in me as I wandered around the country. The ghostly absence of Aboriginal Australian people. Their silence when there; the fact that museums were full of their deeds, but they themselves were not revered in the same way.
I supposed it was a shock. There is a whole culture of dispossessed peoples, who are never talked about. There is a sense of shame when their lives and politics are brought to the fore. I am not sure what it is and I am not qualified to speak for Australians, but, something was there, something strange and unspoken. I had of course seen pictures of the Aboriginal people. I was familiar in a kind of naïve way of the history of the indigenous people. I was not prepared for the effect of their ancient faces on me. Aboriginal people are beautiful. To me, their countenance, their existence, is like entering another time and seeing what the past was like. I did not expect this to happen, I was surprised.
Everywhere in the large cities in Australia, there is a roaring trade in Aboriginal art. Huge galleries, run by Europeans are selling work which sometimes is amazingly complex and modern and at other times quite pedestrian.
My Australian paintings are quite simple, yet they have a lot of stories behind them. From ‘Arnhem’-(‘You can paint me he told me, but when I die you must cover it up for ever’ ‘How will I know you are dead’ I asked. ‘I will come to you in a dream’ said Jack.)
The painting ‘Uluru Dreaming’ is about two women I saw painting through an open door at the Ayers Rock visitor centre. It was all very beautifully made and oozing with expensive tourist art. Through an open door, two aboriginal women, in rags with bare feet were painting the expensive art for the shop. I tried to speak to them, but was escorted away in a hurry by the security guard. It was quite a contrast. Perhaps they were earning a huge salary for their efforts. Perhaps not.
Other paintings are about the beauty of the colours and the landscape. The redness was staggering, and the way that the whole landscape changed dramatically as the sun set. I am grateful to have seen it. Go if you can, if you need inspiration, and if Europe is too complex for you. You will come back ready for the complexity and grateful to be in the middle of the world, not at the edge of it.
George Sfougaras May 2012
Tags: exhibition australia themes and meanings.