By DANA TETENBURG.

Contemporary Australian artist Adam Hill, who goes by the name of Blak Douglas, focuses on indigenous issues through a style influenced by pop art. He was a 2015 Archibald finalist for his portrait of Uncle Max Eulo and an entrant in this year’s Archibald as well.

I had a chat to him about his creative process, the social issues featured in his work, and his current projects.

 

You studied photography, illustration and graphics, but you’re largely self-taught in the art of painting. How has this affected your pieces and the way you work?

Great question and one that has never been asked before. ‘Affected’ may be substituted with ‘effected here’. For a decade I’d become known for painting the ‘flat bottom cloud’ style. Being a finalist in numerous awards and winning many others would not see most major institutions here make acquisitions.

Feeling I was banging my head against the wall with my bold/graphic style… I vacated. Took a hiatus of exploration. Observing that style and yes very ‘graphic’ aligned. Just recently… the general consensus (amongst the ultra conservative arts fraternity) [is] that my style is ‘too much like graphic design’. Funnily enough, after a sojourn into a variety of mediums and styles arriving now at POP, I’m hearing requests from far and wide for a return to the ‘Adam Hill Cloud Era’.

 

Your work focuses on bringing to light issues that are challenging. What are the kinds of social issues you feature and why do you think they are important to feature? Why do you think art is the best form to express these social issues?

We’re currently enduring a ‘Barnum & Baileys’  type of Federal Election… On the flip side, we’re in discussion regarding the possibility of being written into the Federal Constitution as Indigenous Peoples. (No major party has placed this anywhere near their priorities). The debate here is whether that is more or less beneficial than a treaty.

In the height of such discussion, alarmingly, the most grotesque, bigoted and racist of public political figures, Pauline Hanson, has been voted back in to her local seat in Queensland. Winning not one but four seats. The message that sends to the world is an undeniable fact that we live within the biggest flock of sheep on the planet.

So I figure that by painting pretty (poignant) imagery of commentary on this, then perhaps the images might be alluring as a children’s picture book is to an infant.

 

What do you think constitutes Aboriginal art today? 

Whilst a major can of worms has been opened over the past seven years, we’ve still got to play to the establishment. That is, ‘old money’.

The predictable plateau for Western Desert Art has been reached. The originators of the ‘dot style’ have mostly been collected/consumed and such works are now only available to the top five percent of wealth. With the general fascination still focussed on the last remaining tribal painters, mostly in the Northern Territory, the urban black fullas are running wild! The establishment doesn’t know what hit it and sadly, with the continued massive cuts to arts funding here, not enough emerging and radical voices are being heard.

The reality is that today, the Aboriginal Art Awards often display the most exciting array of art being produced on this continent. From the barks, woven baskets, carvings and necklaces to blown glass, sculptural installation, ceramics, digital media, photographics, salvaged garbage and acquired memorabilia. We’ve got it all.

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So does Aboriginal art discuss the same issues and send the same messages as in the past?

Fundamentally, yes. Generally peoples are speaking through works of tradition. If one is fortunate enough, that’s an unbroken tradition. Like the remote region painters of the desert, Kimberly, Arnhem Land or the Torres Strait.

When you descend from a ‘broken’ tradition, like myself and many of my contemporaries, we naturally tend to sway toward a politically-motivated source of commentary. That being, the hypocrisy of a ‘Commonwealth’ Government insisting that Aboriginal school children be upstanding alongside their Pakeha schoolmates and sing Advance Australia Fair. (Ignoring the fact that their father, uncle and cousins are locked up in jail for opposing the system).

 

Congratulations on being a finalist for the Archibald Prize in 2015. What’s the plan for your 2016 entry? How will this year differ from your previous entry?

Thanks. It was the biggest thing thus far in my ‘mid’ career. As I write this, I’ll be collecting my 2016 submission as I’ve unfortunately not been selected. It was indeed a hard act to follow but I didn’t think so. I painted a gorgeous subject, namely the world-famous songstress Christine Anu (My Island Home). I was really hoping to make it in because this would have secured yet another rarity. There’s not been many Torres Strait Islander subjects selected for the Archibald.

 

You also had a forthcoming exhibition at The Glasshouse, Port Macquarie during National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee week. What did this exhibition explore?

Some time ago, I’d hinted the notion of exhibiting with one of my painting idols. Uncle Milton Budge has consistently been a finalist in many major art awards… I’d often admired his style and somewhat prolific output. Lo and behold, some time later… the ladies at The Glasshouse approach me and propose the show!

After spending a week-long residency there at the gallery a couple of months ago, we chanced the opportunity to yarn up over cups of tea. On the last day, Uncle Milton quizzed me on my Aboriginal family history and just as we’d suspected…we’re blood. Both Dunghatti from Kempsey (Mid-North Coast N.S.W.) Our grandparents respectively from the same mission – Burnt Bridge.

The exhibition title is OLD STORIES / NEW LIGHT. It’s not really a themed exploration, but rather a celebration of two men of the same dreaming. Living in two very different communities, both painters of acrylics, both dedicated to their cause.

 

What are your thoughts and advice for young and emerging artists that also explore social issues?

Band together with like-minded ones. Form a new clan. Support others of the same ilk. Strategise your exhibiting, i.e: which galleries are most progressive and open to your form of comment? Aim for the most progressive and unbiased art awards, beginning with your most local. Ensure you’ve a dedicated wall calendar just for art awards and aim toward those annually. Like it or not, this is where your name becomes acknowledged.

There are ten-fold more opportunities for indigenous artists nowadays. And lastly, paint from the (H)ART and don’t let anyone suppress your feeling.

Oh… and style up for your openings.

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