Analysing an Aboriginal Painting

Term: 1 Year: 2016

A full appreciation of the painting Arlperre My Country, 2009 by Angelina Pwerle, an artist from Utopia, would be impossible without access to highly specific information.

And, you couldn’t attempt to analyse it yourself without a way to direct your analysis. One way that incorporates those two things is what I call the Four Degrees of Separation approach. This allows you to take the necessary ‘steps’ to work through the available visual clues. This approach works with introducing any artwork to any age group.

First Degree of Separation: What can be seen from a distance?

Second Degree of Separation: What can you see by moving half way towards the painting from where you first stood? 

Third Degree of Separation: What can you see if you move close up to the painting?

Fourth Degree of Separation: What can you find out about the artist and/or the painting by researching it and the artist? 

You can’t get much closer than that. The four steps you take towards the painting provide as much as can be known (or found out). And, each step provides unique information that is unavailable in any of the other steps. Let’s have a look at each of the four steps and see what can be discovered.

First Degree of Separation: 
From a distance I can see some important things quite clearly. And, I’ve noticed that from close up some of those can’t be seen at all. What can you see? I can see some lightly coloured ‘waves’ of warm tones - pinks, reds, oranges, white and even some dark blues. It appears as though the variations of tones could be like washes of colour that blend from one area to another. The various tonal areas seem to form organic or natural curved shapes.

Second Degree of Separation:
From closer up you can see that the painting has been created using numerous dots of colour. All of the dots are small but some are too small to notice even from a large step forward. What also becomes very clear is that the forms and shapes of the various colours are created by the combinations of coloured dots within any area. Some are mainly red, some are mainly orange and some are mainly pink. But within those colours are included dots of other colours. From this distance it’s obvious that care and skill has been taken in applying the dots.

Third Degree of Separation: 
When you move up close to the paining you can confirm all of the things you observed from further away. The care and skill is amazingly impressive. There are no sloppy or carelessly painted dots at all which demonstrates the patience the artist possessed. While you can still see the colour variations the borders of the shapes tend to disappear.  The dots are often minuscule and many can’t even be seen from a distance. There are three main sized dots and the tiniest appear to be made with meat skewers. 

Fourth Degree of Separation:
Arlperre My Country, 2009, was patiently created with many tiny dots, some contained within slightly larger dots. The work reflects the artist’s reverence for her country and the practices of living in what can be a harsh land. The topic is about the Bush Plum, a staple Aboriginal food that dominates Arlperre Country on the Utopia Cattle Station. The red colours are indicative of the readiness for the plum to be eaten so the work is about the location of an important food source. The Arlperre people celebrate in ceremony the mythology of The Bush Plum ancestors who travelled to this place and created the Arlperre rock-hole which is an important water spring deep inside a cave. The women ‘sing-up’ the bush plum, ensuring its fertility for the future, and to teach younger family members of its significance.

Max Darby
Arts Education Consultant

Supporting teachers in creative education