Bark Painting

"Bark painting is a unique and traditional form of Aboriginal art dating back thousands of years."

Preparing the Bark

Australia’s indigenous people used the bark from the trunks of stringybark trees, scientifically known as Eucalyptus Tetrodonta. The artists cut good quality bark from around the trees in rectangular shapes, during and just after the wet season (November to April) when it was easier to remove and work with.

After removing and tidying up the pieces of bark, by trimming, scraping and smoothing with sharp tools, it needed to be heated and flattened in preparation for the artwork. The bark was then heated over hot coals from a well burnt fire, with no flames remaining and at the correct temperature. The exterior of the bark was heated and the interior kept face-up without any contact with the fire.

Aboriginal Bark Painting of Ritual Dance, from Yrrkala, Australia
Aboriginal Bark...
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The bark would slowly unbend and the moisture would evaporate, leaving a flat surface ready to be kept under weights for a few days. When the bark was adequately flattened, sticks were tied across the ends to ensure it remained flat and didn’t warp during painting.

Aboriginal Men Explain Symbology of Bark Paintings to Researcher
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Paint Pigments

Iron ochre rocks were ground finely and used to mix the earth coloured paints such as reds and yellows. Charcoal and manganese were used for blacks and pipeclay for whites and greys. The pigments were also mixed with resins from plantlife as a fixative on the bark.

Painting Subjects

The subjects of bark paintings differed between regions and tribes. Cultural symbols, figures, beliefs, x-ray motifs and ceremonial objects were all portrayed as well as Dreamtime stories, maps and activity charts.

The Kimberley in Western Australia is famous for its spiritual Wandjina figure, who they believe is responsible for the raging storms in the wet season.

Aboriginal Wandjina Art under Rock Overhang
Aboriginal...
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The Northern Territory is broken into many sub-regions of characteristic Aboriginal art, including Western, Central and Eastern Arnhem Land, Port Keats, Bathurst Island, Melville Islands and Groote Eylandt.

The subjects focus on figurative and non-figurative images, ancestors, creators and landscapes. Line art, known as crosshatching, is also common, either, as its own piece of artwork or as a background to figurative artworks.

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