Image: WALKABOUT. Acrylic on Canvas. 2020. 100 x 30 x 2cm.
As anyone who knows me will tell you I am not one for walks, or indeed exercise of any kind. I don’t recommend my attitude however and certainly the lockdown has made me more aware of the benefits of walking. The painting above was heavily ‘influenced’ by native australian art which I saw in New South Wales and The Northern Territories in 2017. Many aboriginal pieces, and indeed my own from my back catalogue, focus on the idea of a journey, containing motifs which illustrate or allude to the landscape. In Aboriginal art these have been passed on through the generations, specific to a sense of place, peopled with animals, fish and sea creatures as well as humans and the spirits ancestors. The evolution of Aboriginal work continues today with many contemporary artists using acrylic on canvas, but the vast heritage and use of mixed media still continues through rock painting, body and face decoration, clothing and accessories, bark painting, wall hangings and sculpture. Their aesthetic thread is often around ancient ceremonies, or dreamings; where the visual ownership of ‘moieties’ is dependant on kinship and varies from society to society. This cultural evolution of art poses artists in the west with a serious dilemma. Western art has long been inspired by other artists and art forms, indeed the majority of teaching in art institutions worldwide rely heavily on knowledge and study of the history of art, and the activity known as critical studies, which encourages students to learn directly from being closely ‘influenced’ by acclaimed masters, styles and techniques.
Wally Caruana in his book Aboriginal Art explains that: ‘ In ( Aboriginal) art , moiety affiliation plays an important role in determining the subjects to which an artist has access, and in many cases, the manner in which they are depicted. Individuals inherit through their parents both direct and indirect rights and responsibility to land, ceremonies and dreamings, as well as connections to their ancestry and supernatural beings. ‘ Caruana goes on to explain, ‘ In this way the prerogative of artists to use and depict religious subjects are regulated. Ownership of designs is akin to copyright, and the use of designs belonging to others constitutes a major breach of aboriginal law’.
Questions of direct plagiarism do exist and are of course legitimate and illegal, artists are well aware of this, but being ‘influenced’ is widespread in all art forms throughout the globe, and often the way in which genuine homage is paid to other artists.
Who would have thought that the UK Government’s advice to have a daily walkabout would lead to such moral and ethical artistic dilemas ?