Contemporary Australian Aboriginal art is very wide ranging. Not only is it produced in a traditional religious context, but it is also being produced for the contemporary fine arts scene on an international level. Australian Aboriginals, like many other indigenous peoples, had no written language. For over 50,000 years they did, however, evolve a system of visual literacy through their art. Essentially, it relates to the land and ties them to the Dreamtime - a complex cosmology.
The image, or design on an Aboriginal art object is the manifestation of a Dreamtime Being or an event associated with that Being. The geometric, apparently "abstract" images of a painting done on bark, in the sand, on rock, or on bodies are really personal maps through landscapes and consciousness.
In the early 1970's an innovation in painting made Australian Aboriginal desert art more well known. Assigned to the remote desert community named Papunya Tula, an art teacher, Geoffrey Bardon, encouraged traditional Aboriginal artists to paint their designs on cardboard and canvas and to use western acrylic paints and brushes. The Papunya Tula Artists Group, which developed this style, began producing highly-acclaimed and exciting works of art in a 'western' medium still using the traditional Dreamtime designs. The use of acrylic and canvas suddenly made the ancient form much more colorful, permanent and mobile. The western European art community quickly discovered the 'dot-paintings', as Dreamtime paintings are commonly referenced. Soon, paintings from the Papunya Tula Artists Group were selling at top international prices in Paris and London.
Returning to America in Autumn,1986, Bridger became the first 'white fella', as Aboriginals refer to Caucasians, to paint and exhibit in the Papunya Tula style. By 1992, when he stopped painting in the style, he had completed one hundred six "dot paintings" - some of them large "corporate-sized" works. Bridger did not approach the style in the 'mythical' Dreamtime sense of figurative story-telling; he approached Papunya Tula as an abstract painter concerned with the relationships of color and design.
Recognizing similarities between "dot paintings" and the beadwork designs of the North American Plains Indians, he started fusing beadwork designs with the Papunya Tula technique. For two years he created beadwork designs either on a loom to be applied to the canvas or directly into the canvas itself. The resulting paintings were exciting, but time-consuming, and thus only five were completed in this series.
After an eight year hiatus, Bridger has begun to work again in oils and Abstract Expressionism - including family portraits and geometric abstraction.
There are many of these paintings around the country and around the world, and we are trying to locate them! If you have one of Robert Durham/Bobby Bridger's original dot-paintings we would love to know about it. Keep your eyes peeled for the painting forum, coming soon in this area. If you own one of his paintings and would like to exhibit a photo of it here, or if you are interested in purchasing one of his paintings or commissioning an original work, please contact Bobby.
Click here to view the Virtual Online Gallery of dot paintings or to see the Coyote Dreamtime manuscript.