Personal Portraits


Using Federation Series 1901-2001 by Julie Dowling explore how the artist depicts members of her family. The artist paints the portraits of her ancestors in the style of Russian and Greek religious saints and martyrs. These provocative portraits are surrounded by powerful symbols and scenes reflecting their life experiences. The artist uses synthetic polymer paint, red ochre and plastic on canvas.

Three portraits have been selected as the basis for personal portraits, Melbin 1901-1910 her grandmother, Auntie Dot 1920-1930 her grandmother’s sister and Ronnie 1970-1980 her mother.Students investigate these highly detailed artworks and in response create their portraits, researching their lives as the final major art work in this study.

Remind students to observe correct protocols and to use the glossary when necessary. Encourage the sustained use of ICT and technology to create their art works and to record, document and present their research and learning to the class, for self evaluation and teacher assessment.

Student notes

Exploring and responding

Observe these art works from the Federation Series 1901-2001 and read about the artist, their community and search for related video and film clips in the Tradition and Transformation resource. Use the Artful Thinking questions to assist your inquiry.

  • What can you see? (use observation skills)
  • What do you think this is about? (practice reflection, analysis and interpretation skills)
  • Pose questions that generate further enquiry. (develop research skills)

Locate the selected art works and listen to the artist on video as she describes her family. Record your notes the IWB/ computor/ visual diary.

  • What emotions can you feel when you look carefully at these images?
  • Discuss how the artist arranges her images.
  • Why might she place the portrait at the center?
  • What is revealed in the background?
  • Discuss the purpose of portraits and consider how other artists, past and present create portraits in terms of artistic style and materials.
Personal Portraits

Look at the art work Melbin 1901-1910 , a portrait of her great great grandmother and note how the artist has used layers and layers of small and larger circles behind the portrait. In this art work these circles represent the traditional meeting places for Indigenous peoples,in other art works the circle will have different meanings.

Personal Portraits

Compare this artwork to Auntie Dot 1920-1930 .

  • How is the background different to Melbin 1901-1910?
  • Try and identify the buildings and the people.
  • Think about why the artist uses skeletons to represent the police?
  • Discuss your reactions to this painting. Does this work relate to current events in Australia?
Personal Portraits

Ronnie 1970-1980 has a political theme and shows significant buildings in Canberra. Identify these buildings and discuss why the artist uses permanent and temporary buildings as symbols. What could these symbols represent?

In the background of this work a former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam is pouring sand into the hands of Vincent Lingari, an important elder and custodian . Why is this gesture symbolic?

The artist has created a significant art work related to her identity and sense of place by researching where her family lived and the significant aspects of their lives, she has chosen to use painting, drawing and writing to create this series of art works. She uses a range of art materials including synthetic polymer paints and plastic.

Creating and making

In response to the art works by Julie Dowling create your personal portraits describing significant events and important people in your life. Students take digital photos of each other and download onto computers, the interactive whiteboard, or print to use as starting points for their art making. Think about your connection to place and community and refer to your identity spiral designs, logos and colour line and shape images.

  • Reflect on and research how you wish to present yourselves.
  • Explore a variety of techniques including digital cameras, mobile phones, direct sketching and old photos to represent relevant places, people and objects.
  • Consider carefully what art materials and media will best reflect your approach, trial these and make aesthetic decisions.
  • Manipulate the arts elements including colour, line, shape and consider composition, focal point and symbols as you plan, experiment, refine and create your portrait.
  • Observe how other students have used different media to create their personal portraits inspired by the Federation Series 1901-2001. Consider why the artist chose this title. param.alttext param.alttext param.alttext

Interview each other as your art work is developing and create short film clips including photos of your special places, the stages of your art making and some insight into your identity. Display your finished art works with your film clips.

Evaluation and reflection

  • What did I know at the start of this unit
  • What have I learnt about myself and Aboriginal art and culture?
  • What skills did I develop in the process?
  • How did I acquire knowledge?