Disclaimer: Artwork featured in the article contains images of deceased Aboriginal people.
An artist has brought moments from Australia’s colonial past into the present and brings his legacy to pieces that have won two prestigious art awards.
Danie Mellor, from the NSW Southern Highlands, has portrayed the experiences of the First Nations people of Queensland in large-scale works that demand viewer gaze and quick conversation about the nation’s history.
“Historical montages” come to life in After the end of the world, who was a finalist this year Sir John Sulman Awardand Arcadia Acquiredwho was selected as a finalist in the Wynne Award.
The contemporary artist, who has an Aboriginal heritage with Scottish and Irish settler ancestry, said he was honored to be exhibited with other artists who have brought their own interpretations to the exhibits’ themes.
“It’s great to be in dialogue with other pieces in a way that you might not expect,” he said.
The Sir John Sulman Prize recognizes wall paintings, genre paintings – which depict different aspects of everyday life, still lifes or figures in landscapes or subject paintings, which have idealized and dramatic elements.
After the end of the world was one of 29 paintings selected from 491 entries across Australia.
It’s a “complex story” of the artist Bowral’s ancestors from the rainforests of northern Queensland, who bear ancestral remains, as settlers look on.
Mr. Mellor drew on images from field photographer Alfred Atkinson and ethnographic collector and Aboriginal protector Walter Roth, as well as his own photos and sketches.
“It’s a bit me who brought it together [with] sources and how to make a scene that has a narrative, that has a layered complexity,” he said.
The acrylic and gesso on linen piece measures 152 by 213.4 centimeters, which he says was a way to draw people in.
“I felt that you kind of needed the scale to have that sense of drama, [it is] big enough,” he said.
The dominance of First Nations people, with the settlers in the background, creates a sense of “spectator” and shows a “very difficult time [with] two worlds coming together”.
Tensions between the indigenous Australians of this region, also called rainforest people, and white settlers, also come to life in the Wynne Award hall Arcadia acquired.
A historic photo once again inspired the room to tell the story.
“Looking back as an artist is quite a privilege,” he said.
The artist said he wanted to show colonial perceptions of the rainforest and its destruction by settlers.
Another unique element is its roundness, which is “like [an] eye sight in the painting, or a window portal in another type of space.”
“The curve of the circles is quite different, it hints at something beyond the perimeter of the painting,” he said.
The Wynne Award presents Australian landscape paintings and sculptures each year.
You can see Mr Mellor’s works in exhibitions at the Art Gallery of NSW from May 14 to August 28.
Danie Mellor’s work has been featured in state, regional and national collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) and the National Gallery of Australia.
Honors for his works include the MCA Sculpture Commission, the NGA Member Acquisition Fund, and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award.
He has been a lecturer and lecturer at the National Institute of the Arts, Australian National University and Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney.
The artist held a position with the Visual Arts Council of the Australian Arts Council and was Chairman of Artform for Create NSW, before being appointed to the Board of Directors of MCA Australia and the Visual Arts Council of Create NSW .
His work has also been shown internationally in museums such as the National Gallery of Canada, the British Museum and National Museums Scotland.