Exhibition Information

thithuyil-moving with the rhythm of the stars- Brian Robinson

01 September to 11 September 2017

Sydney Contemporary, Carriageworks

Robinson is a multi-skilled contemporary artist, whose practice includes painting, printmaking, sculpture and design. The graphic style in his practice combines his Torres Strait Islander heritage with a strong passion for experimentation, both in theoretical approach and medium, as well as crossing the boundaries between reality and fantasy. The results combine styles as diverse as graffiti art through to intricate relief carvings and construction sculpture echoing images of Torres Strait cultural motifs, objects and activity.

Long before the white man came to the islands, the Islanders were the Vikings of the Torres Strait, a narrow waterway between the land masses of Zai Dagam Daudai [Australia] in the south and Naigai Dagam Daudai [Papua New Guinea] in the north where the Coral and Arafura Seas meet in one of the most fragile and intricate waterways in the world. A seafaring race of indigenous people, proud and dignified, whose spirituality was derived from ancestral ties to the land, the sea and the sky.


So like astronomers of old, the Islanders too looked towards the heavens for advice to be confronted with stars in the thousands that shun down upon them out of the blackness of the night sky – the blackness that is space. They seamed to be scattered haphazardly about in every direction at first site, therefore, the heavens appeared to be somewhat confusing, but after star gazing for a while, their eyes could soon discern some order in their apparent chaos. It was our distant ancestors, both black and white, who, seeing much the same skies as we do today, named most of the constellations and identified them with the heroic, the beautiful, the fantastic, and the monstrous characters that featured in their epic myths and legends, and on the clear and unpolluted night skies of antiquity such star clusters like Pleiades was an object of wonder and interest.


Star constellations have also been a significant navigational device and environmental marker as well as source of artistic inspiration in both visual and oral material for both indigenous and non-indigenous people since the dawn of mankind. Through their connection to land, sea and sky, Torres Strait Islander people have been able to predict major social and seasonal changes to their environment, an essential part of the education and storytelling of young children within every community. These lessons are interwoven through spiritual beliefs, songs, dances, stories and dance paraphernalia.


My personal creativity brings with it a setting that respects the beliefs and high spiritedness, the excellence and authenticity of contemporary life associated with Zenadh Kes identity. I have incorporated a broad intellectual brush and used a palette
 that references the traits of Oceanic design reminiscent of the contemporary Pacific. Increasingly, innovations in form have propelled the work deep into the territory of contemporary art as new iconographies and value guides transform the lived experience into a series of compelling graphical puzzles. Emboldened by a hybrid conception of the world, I often 
find layers of historical narrative and intertwine these with personal history and humor. Referencing iconic works of classical art, or popular sources from global culture - forms and characters are co-opted into the spirit world of the Islander imagination.


The Torres Strait print movement’s arabesque patterning loosely conforms to a combination of rhythmic attributes full of liveliness and shimmering movement. The patterns are also used to disguise discernible shapes and motifs further alluring the viewer to spend ever-increasing amounts of time uncovering the intricacies of texture, shape and meaning. The effect provides emphasis to the importance of an orderly system representing the complete world, full of wisdom and mythology, where all its parts and motifs are contained, having their time, space and place.


There is a semiotic function here that represents a collusion of signs and symbols creating a visual language and narrative driven by my own experiences. The lens
 of this world is illuminated by the aspirations of two universes, where cultural icons have been assimilated as representative spirits into the ontological world of Zenadh Kes creating a visual creole.


The assimilation of imagery originating in classical art of the Renaissance is primarily about the status of the classical body and the surface anatomy captured through the hand and eye. These same cultural references take us to the age of Great Navigations that led Europeans to Oceania. It is identified as a time in European history that bridges the Dark Ages to the modern era, as a date stamp, the fourteenth through sixteenth century.

While the Europeans used sea charts and rhomb lines to navigate the oceans of the world, the Islanders of Zenadh Kes navigated by the stars. The continuum of nature and the cosmological forces inherent in the environment provided markers for successful and accurate open sea navigation: the life cycle of the seasons and moon phases; the motion of specific constellations and their relationship to where they rise and set on the horizon of the sea; the weather and the seasons; and the movement of animals through this environment. My creativity is driven by the connection of these things and the resulting visual language represented by my work becomes a consequence of my Melanesian heritage. My art therefore can be considered similar to a cartographic system as a means of producing and preserving knowledge of the traditional tenure and place of my people.


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