“Australia”, this is the vast and ambitious title chosen by the Royal Academy for its show spanning more than 200 years of Australian art. The exhibition “seeks to uncover the fascinating social and cultural evolution of a nation through its art”. Its title somewhat calls for a unity in Australian art. I believe the common theme was however the landscape; I only felt the unity in its aboriginal and indigenous art, which stole the show.
Some history is provided in the exhibition given the unusual circumstances around the settling of Australia by English convicts. The late formation of a unique identity by the young country is felt in its art. First, Australian art was confined to British landscapes. Later, the gum tree became the nation’s symbol. Local artists first depicted landscapes which were lush; over time these morphed into the arid. I was impressed by Tom Roberts’ A Break Away! showing movements of sheep rushing to drink water and the dust created by the sheep.
Other than that, I believe aboriginal art stole the show. The exhibition showed contemporary aboriginal art, which followed ancient indigenous art. It is easily recognisable with its typical dots, colours often restricted to earthy tones and viewed from above. I couldn’t help but wonder whether aboriginal art was abstract. To me it is but not to its artists, who depict ancestral stories. I would have liked a show on Australian Aboriginal art, really. ‘Australia’ runs until December 8 at the Royal Academy, London.