What colours are used in Aboriginal art and what are the meanings behind them?
Aboriginal art is the oldest unbroken tradition in the world and is iconic for its use of colours to tell stories and communicate visually. As Aboriginal culture does not have a written language, drawings and paintings are crucial to passing along knowledge and history through generations.
You may notice that in Aboriginal art there are certain colour palettes used to produce the artwork and these tones appear regularly across a range of pieces. You may also ask yourself what these colours are and what is the story or meaning behind them? In this blog we delve into the origins of the Aboriginal art colour palettes and their importance.
Where the colours come from
The original colours used by Aboriginal painters is an ochre palette and comes from the earth, primarily made of natural pigments and minerals found in the soil. The colours are warm tones of iron oxides and vary from deep browns through to different shades of red and lighter tones of yellows and creams. Ground-up charcoal can also be used to make black colours for the paintings. The artists can manipulate the colours in any way they choose to create stories and images.
While each individual artist will typically represent their own artistic style through their colour choice, a selection of dominant colours can appear in multiple paintings. Some communities have decided to paint within a chosen colour range and limit their palettes to only a few traditional colours, whilst there are other groups who permit their members to paint from broader palettes, offering the ability to use full colour charts. This decision allows for more choice and creativity and as time has progressed it has become a more regular occurrence, with senior artists embracing the choice of broader colour palettes.
How the colours give meaning
Due to the many ways that groups choose to use colour palettes their meanings can be different, but there are some common themes you may recognise across multiple pieces. Artists often use white dots to define structural elements that are formed using earth colours and tones, and other coloured dots to form a story. One of the most incredible things about Aboriginal art is that looking at the piece and then hearing the story behind the dots can give you a whole new meaning to what you are seeing.