Angelina George

<strong>Angelina George</strong><br/>Born 1937, Nutwood Downs Station, Northern Territory<br/>Mara and Warndarang language-speaker<br/>Resides Beswick and Darwin, Northern Territory<br/><br/><i>Rainbow Serpent Dreaming</i> 2004<br/>Acrylic polymer paint on Belgian linen, 121 x 96 cm<br/>Charles Darwin University Art Collection: CDU1272<br/>Acquired in 2005<br/>Image © the artist

The youngest of the five “Joshua sisters” who hold responsibility for traditional land near Boomerang Lagoon, Angelina George grew up in Roper River country, attending the mission school, where she first began to draw in coloured chalks on slate. She is related to the Ngukurr region’s “boss of colour”, the late master painter Ginger Riley Munduwalawala.

An exhibiting artist since the early 1990s, George held her first solo show in Darwin in February 2006 to wide acclaim. Although prohibited by cultural restraints from painting landscape “exactly like the place”, this appears, in her most recent work, to have given George the freedom and confidence to paint exactly as she wants: through her imagination.

Traces of sublime vistas or silent and unpeopled landscapes emerged in her modestly scaled paintings of the mid 1990s. Tapestries of tightly embroidered, brightly coloured bush flowers filling an entire canvas field – a world seen in miniature and in tender proximity – have also defined her creative repertoire.

The past few years have witnessed a startling transition to larger-scale landscapes with a geographic and conceptual range that is at once sweeping and intimately known: swollen, snaky freshwater rivers and creeks undulate through stands of sinuous white-barked trees and dense green scrub, taking the viewer into the heart of the bare, majestic ranges of “Ruined City” stone country, a land sculpted by wind, rain and fire. Birds feature prominently, carried by currents of air into the heat haze of invisible horizons and shorn clouds, or in secret communion within serried thickets and shrubs, their graphic symbolism uniting water, sky and ground.

George’s vision of landscape is an arena for both natural wonder and ancestral power. Singular in subject matter and composition, Rainbow Serpent Dreaming 2004 is said to be the first painting given a specific title by the artist. According to George, it depicts an ancient, ancestral battle between four regional tribal groups on the Limmen Bight River in her grandmother’s country. A supernatural entity – in the form of two powerful blind snakes – was summoned by song to settle disputed rights. The malefactors were engulfed and drowned by the turbulent whirlpool of foaming water created by the avenging serpent.

Ultimately, George’s “imagined country” is about knowing one’s place in the world and therefore oneself. Her landscapes are a timely reminder that there is another aspect to the “inside”, “secret” or “fourth dimension” of Aboriginal art which cannot be laid bare by anthropological enquiry: an artist’s creative imagination.

[Ref: A. Angel, “My Imagined Country” (exhibition review), Art & Australia, vol.43 no.4 (Winter) 2006, pp.595-6.]

Anita Angel
Curator, Charles Darwin University Art Collection
25 May 2009

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