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Richard BELL

Kamilaroi/Kooma/Jiman/Gurang Gurang peoples

Charleville, Queensland born 1953

Big brush stroke 2005 Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
paintings, synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Technique: synthetic polymer paint on canvas
overall 240.0 h x 270.0 w cm
each 240.0 h x 90.0 w cm
Purchased 2007
Accession No: NGA 2007.204.A-C
Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery

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  • I am an Aboriginal man … Because I am from the closely settled east coast of Australia I am not allowed to paint what is popularly called ‘Aboriginal art’. Nor can I use the symbols and styles of Aboriginal people from the remote, sparsely settled areas of northern Australia … However, in western art, which appears to be almost entirely and increasingly derivative, no such restrictions apply. Quoting, citing, sampling or appropriating pre-existing works even has its own movement: appropriationism … [1]

    Bell works in a postmodern vein where, as he states, his art is open to the reinterpretation of pre-existing images in his constant questioning of the politics of culture and art in the contemporary world. His work is intentionally confrontational, although often laced with irony and a wry sense of humour, and is intended to shake the viewer out of a comfort zone of established, stereotypical perspectives of what defines and constitutes art and culture. Bell takes aim at commonly held misconceptions of Indigenous Australian art and culture in particular. One strand of his work deals directly with damaging effects of unbridled colonialism on Indigenous peoples, both historically and in contemporary times. This strand overlaps another where Bell commandeers popular images from art in the western tradition such as the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock or, as in this case, the pop art images of Roy Lichtenstein, both American artists of the twentieth century. Is Bell suggesting that Indigenous Australian art may suffer from another form of colonialism—cultural subjugation?

    Wally Caruana

    [1] Richard Bell, quoted in B L Croft (ed), Culture Warriors: National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2007, p 59.


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010