Art has the unique ability to transport us to different worlds, cultures and experiences, all without needing to take even one step. In this issue of NGV Magazine, the NGV Collection becomes the vehicle for examining surprises in everyday places, and the rich relationships between place, creativity and identity.
In this video created to accompany the NGV Magazine feature ‘A sip around the world: Tea culture in the Collection’, Melbourne designers Ben Landau and Lucile Sciallano, from experimental design studio Alterfact, explain the processes behind their one-of-a-kind teapots, made using 3D clay printers that the designers have built themselves.
By Raymonda Rajkowski, NGV Conservator of Paintings
Natural ochre is one of the most important materials used by Indigenous Australian artists. Ochre refers to various coloured rock and clay deposits found in the earth. Traditionally used as pigments, they form highly distinctive surfaces of paintings, particularly when mixed into a paint of a thicker consistency. The result is a matte and heavily textured paint layer, often with clumps of ochre sitting proud on the surface. These textural qualities make ochre paintings not only visually captivating but also very fragile. From a conservation perspective, Indigenous ochre paintings require special care due to these distinctive qualities and their vulnerability.
A close look at Johnathon World Peace Bush’s Tiwi yoyi, 2018, demonstrates just how uniquely textured ochre paintings can be. Thick, opaque and velvet-like ochre colours form the intricate features of the central figures. Yet Bush has also modified the consistency of the paint by diluting it to incorporate more fluid ochre layers and lines. This is Bush’s distinctive painting method: ‘I paint with dripping, using black charcoal, white, red and yellow ochres down the canvas. It’s my own style, my own idea.’ 1Johnathon World Peace Bush cited in Jilamara Arts & Crafts Association, ‘Artist Profile’, <www.jilamara.com/artist/johnathon-bush>, accessed 1 Aug. 2020
Discover further insights into the unique techniques and materials used in Tiwi yoyi by clicking on the following three areas of the work:
Bush’s painting depicts yoyi (dance) which is integral to every Tiwi ceremony. The central figures are painted in ochre with jilamara (designs) for pukumai (mourning) and kulama (coming of age) ceremonies. This detailed view shows an intricate design of cross-hatched and dotted lines recreated by Bush using the same Tiwi ochres that were sourced from the land, ground by hand and blended into a paint for tens of thousands of years by his ancestors. Arrikirninga (yellow ochre) is collected from the centre of Melville Island, and when heated on the fire, turns into yaringa (red ochre). Kirijipuni (white ochre), also known as kaolin or pipe clay, is sourced from the cliff faces along the northern coastline near Milikapiti.
With this close view, we can observe the various layers of Bush’s work. There is an underlying pattern of straight horizontal and vertical lines formed with thinned paint, over which thicker ochre has been selectively applied, primarily to the figures. The overlapping colours and raised edges of the brushwork indicate a free-flowing and gradual approach to building up the work. A series of vertical drips of thinned black and yellow paint were applied last and span the full height of the canvas. To closely examine surface characteristics of a work such as this, conservators use lighting positioned at oblique angles (raking light) as well as a microscope. These tools not only help to reveal an artist’s working method, but also highlight areas that require care from conservators, such as loosely adhered, flaking or friable (powdery) painted areas.
Black is traditionally derived from charcoal made from the burning trees on the campfire. Along the top of the work is a series of circles in black paint, which Bush has applied in a fluid consistency to form the vertical drips down the canvas. On closer view, there is a distinctive granular appearance to the crushed charcoal, which is typically mixed with water or a weak natural binder, such as orchid juice or gum resin. The paint has been diluted to such an extent that the charcoal particles have separated in places, forming coalescing ripples of pigment. Painted surfaces such as this are described as underbound due to the minimal amount of binding material present, which is the component of a paint mixture that adheres pigments particles to the canvas. As these surfaces are easily abraded and vulnerable to environmental exposure, preventive conservation strategies are essential. These include fitting a backing board and custom-built temporary timber frame to limit physical handling and minimise change to the work.
In this issue of NGV Magazine, Caitlin Breare, NGV Conservator of Paintings, looks closely at British-born Thomas Clark’s 1867 painting The Upper Falls on the Wannon. In this portfolio, take a look at other works in the Collection by Clark’s contemporaries, each offering distinct impressions of the Victorian countryside in the early years of European settlement.