Kid's in bed, cup of tea brewed, settled down to watch something on the iplayer and the Griff Rhys Jones new series 'Hidden Treasures of... Australian Art ' catches the eye. Always a sucker for the intensity and originality of spiritual art but wasn't sure if Griff was the man to deliver it.
So imagine my surprise when about 6 minutes in the first artist he visits in his search for the maker of a tribal mask is Alick Tipoti, a Torres Strait Islander now living in Cairns. Who while also carving masks usually works in .... fanfare.. Linocut. Huge bloody great things, in black and white, dense with fascinating pattern and incredibly rich in meaning and belief.
Here is an explanation of his work;
"Alick Tipoti is a Torres Strait Islander who is guided by the traditional cultural practices of his people. He believes in the Zugubal who were spoken about for many years by his ancestors. He is most diligent about what he sees as his responsibility to document the stories, genealogies, songs and other aspects of his culture so that it is available for future generations to learn, understand and practice. He speaks his native language, Kala Lagaw Ya of the Maluilgal nation of Zenadh Kes. Alick believes that language is the vital ingredient that binds all cultures in the world today. ‘Without your language you become a foreigner, lost in another persons culture. * The Australian Art Print Network "
'Koedalal ar Sapural'
Kuyku Garpathamai Mabaig 2007
linocut on paper, edition 3/45
And just to give you an indication of the size and impact of the prints heres the man himself with his wonderful pictures.
A great deal of his philosophy regarding the place of language in defining and grounding a culture has many parallels with the place and importance of the Welsh language in shaping the resurgence of the welsh culture and nation today. There is also a very interesting piece in the programme where he talks of the spirits of his ancestors helping him with the print, although not as strongly in Cairns as they do back home. To help them with this he usually prints at night. A lot of artist talk of the Muse but his is much more personal and effective it seems. I was fascinated to see how his immersion, his belief in his traditional belief system gives him an unshakable confidence and self belief in his own work and his place, both historical and cultural, in producing that artwork. Which gives his artwork not only a vast wealth of subject to draw upon but a passion and integrity in the execution of that subject, that has such meaning for him, and which then goes a long way towards giving the work it's power.
If as a modern western artist you have no religion, no organised beliefs, where does that passion, that belief in the point and meaning of your own work come from. Do you need it at all? Or do you have to scrabble around and find something else to believe in, spiritual or not to replace the lack of a coherent system in which you have a place. Can you create your own things to believe in and find important enough to give your work a sense of depth and veracity? Or can you ( can I ) draw on the religious, historical and cultural baggage into which I was born without the belief in that baggage.
Really loved the idea, especially after the shots of the Torres Islands Landscape, of an Artist as different from me as can be in terms of location, climate, culture, language, geography and especially belief, but still using lino, a language we could both speak.
Will have a big think on this and see where it takes me. Back to St George and the Dragon I think.