Aboriginal Dot Paintings


Dot paintings today are recognised globally as unique and integral to Australian Aboriginal art. On the surface the dot is simply a style of Aboriginal painting, like the use of cross-hatching or stencil art. Exploring deeper into the history of the Aboriginal dot painting a world of camouflage, secrecy and ritual is discovered.

The term ‘dot painting’ stems from what the Western eye sees when faced with contemporary Aboriginal acrylic paintings. This painting style arose from the Papunya art movement in the 1970s. Papunya Tula artists used a process which originally mirrored traditional spiritual ceremonies. In such rituals the soil would be cleared and smoothed over as a canvas (much like the dark, earthy boards used by the Papunya Tala) for the inscription of sacred designs, replicating movements of ancestral beings upon earth. These Dreaming designs were outlined with dancing circles and often surrounded with a mass of dots. Afterward the imprinted earth would be smoothed over, painted bodies rubbed away, masking the sacred-secrets which had taken place.

This ritual was shifted from ground to canvas by the Papunya Tula who eventually added an array of naturally produced colours to the restricted palette of red, yellow, black and white produced from ochre, charcoal and pipe clay. Such pieces reveal a map of circles, spirals, lines, dashes and dots, the traditional visual language of the Western Desert Aboriginal People. However these marks were permanent and due to arising interest made public, creating internal political uproar. Consequently representations of sacred objects were forbidden or concealed through the dotting technique.

Whether a concealer of deeper, spiritual meaning or simply symbols of fruits, rain or feathers the acrylic dot paintings of the Aboriginal People become increasingly complex and innovative artistically. The paintings of Johnny Warrangula Tjupurrula implement techniques of overlaying dots and superimposing patterns causing objects and shapes to merge in and out of one another. Acrylic Aboriginal paintings are highly emotive incorporating an innovative balance of traditional and modern. The dot technique, whether as a concealer or a signifier offers a sense of movement and rhythm causing the flat canvas to sing, jump and dance with energy and life, much like the rituals which inspired them.

(Photo: 'Inland Sea' by Aboriginal Artist Dorothy Napangardi ; © 2007 Central Art)

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