Aboriginal Bark Paintings

Of all the exhibitions I went to in Sydney over the past week, it was “They are Meditating” that inspired me the most. It’s an exhibition of Aboriginal bark paintings that were given to the Museum of Contemporary Art by the Arnott’s Biscuit company.

They’re more contemporary than any non-Aboriginal Australian art, but they also have thousands of years of tradition in them. You don’t walk away from them feeling hollow or cheated or confused as they’re real, they have meaning.

I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the paintings, but I bought the “They are Meditating” catalogue and scanned a few of my favorites.

This first Aboriginal bark painting is by an artist called Yirawala, painted in 1970. It’s a smallish painting that almost had me mesmerized. Not many paintings have affected me like this little beauty..
aboriginal bark paintings
Artist: Yirawala
Title: Yirritja moiety divided into “skins” by Maralatj, 1970
Ochres on bark, 66.5 x 28cm

This next bark painting is by Roy Riwa. The crabs made me think of Picasso.
aboriginal bark paintings
Artist: Roy Riwa
Title: Crab Totems, 1970s
Ochres on bark, 69.5 x 30.4cm

The last Aboriginal painting that I scanned is by Fred Nganganharrilil. It shows why ‘decorative’ shouldn’t be a bad word in art.
aboriginal bark paintings
Artist: Fred Nganganharrilil
Title: Flying Fox Dance, 1970s
Ochres and synthetic polymer on bark, 88.8 x 44cm

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Inventive and appealing. Thanks for posting — never had seen it before.

    Where can one get a copy of that catalog. Doesn’t appear on the MCA website. They don’t appear to have a web store.

  2. I love the simplicity of the style.

  3. Anonymous, they do have an online store here, but I couldnt see the catalog there yet.

    Try contacting them and I’m sure they would post a copy. I think I paid $50 or $60 AUD for it, which is almost $50 or $60 US dollars. It’s called “They are Meditating; Bark Paintings from the MCA’s Arnott’s Collection”


  4. oh wow they are just beautiful and that is just a photo of a photo on a blog. I expect you spent ages examining them. I can’t decide which I like best as I like them all for different reasons. I agree with you about the word decorative.

  5. Very interesting. I’d luv to see them in person, even the scans looks so very intricate!

  6. These are fantastic. The figures look like aliens, and astronauts. I bet the author of the chariots of the gods would like these.

  7. wow, they are inspiring, thanks for showing us. They make me think of those African masks that inspired early modern artists so much. I really like the one where the people’s heads have only two big white spots in them for eyes and long necks.

  8. Anonymous says:


    I sent an email to the store asking if they’d sell it and ship to the US. Thanks for the link.


  9. Corrine, I would probably still get in trouble for scanning them, but it’s less embarrassing than being dragged out the museum with my camera. They seemed to watch me very closely after they knew I had a camera with me.

    Rich, hope that works out well. If you like the three scans that I did, you’ll like the rest of the catalog.



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