Sunday, October 2, 2016

Marking the Infinite at Newcomb

Lately there have been a lot of art shows about town featuring the work of women artists dealing with contemporary identity issues. This group exhibit of nine, mostly elderly, female Australian aboriginal artists takes a slightly different approach, focusing on Mother Nature herself. Their subjects range from flora and fauna to the sea, the stars and the heavens that typically comprise much traditional aboriginal art, but the inventive and personal touch they bring to those themes makes them true contemporary artists. The way these works often seem to parallel modern abstraction may be partly because they are from the holdings of noted contemporary art collectors Dennis and Debra Scholl. But “modern art” has actually been profoundly influenced by tribal art since its inception. 

Nonggirrnga Marawili is a case in point. Her painted poles, top, hark to traditional Aboriginal subjects like lightning, fire, water or rock and feature  angular, boldly rendered forms with curious parallels to German expressionism. She says her work is, in her words, “coming from the heart and mind” rather than from the time honored traditions of the tribal elders. Angelina Pwerele's paintings (top, background) are made up of complex patterns of white dots on expansive minimal red or black fields. Her shimmering dots actually refer to the bush plum, a staple food associated with the visionary dream experiences of the “songlines” legacy of tribal traditions that unite the landscape and its bounty with the stars and the cosmos. Similar white dots on red expanses appear in Carlene West's paintings, but hers often surround elongated swatches of white representing a vast salt lake that figures prominently in the artist's personal experiences as well as in tribal legends, while also recalling modern Western pop abstraction. And Regina Pilawuk Wilson's Sun Mat, above, illustrates how woven fish nets parallel the tribal vision of all creation as a vast interwoven skein. But the most radical departure would have to be Nyapanyapa Yunupingu's Light Paintings on acetate, top left, a series of 124 drawings that morph and merge in computer generated patterns governed by complex algorithms. Apparently not even the Australian nature spirits are immune to the digital age. ~Bookhardt / Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia, Through Dec. 30, Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, 865-5328.