The (Day) Dreamers, 2004
acrylic, gravel and binder on canvas
4 panels, with each panel measuring 150 x 60 cm
Criterion Gallery, Hobart
Private collection, Sydney
‘My research is my experience. I came from the country and became politicised in the city - and truth is my weapon of choice.’ (Richard Bell, 2013)
To Richard Bell, canvas is an open site for story telling and an essential part of art making is harnessing a public forum. His incendiary combinations of words and signs, splashed across gallery walls bring attention to attitudes and acts of discrimination.
This canvas looks into authenticity and appropriation, with its use of Pollock-style drips and, concentric Tingari circles and Western Desert line work homogenised as emblems of 1960s era hard-edged abstraction. The underlying message is that there isn’t one authentic style that Aboriginal art must adopt.
Bell’s sloganeering and graffiti aesthetic belong to the 1970s tradition of protest art and political activism where emotion and intellect are powerfully joined. His take-no-prisoners provocations combine contemporary triangulations of art, politics and humour with the traditional triangulation of land, story and art. He uses oral and visual components in his work (you say what you see out loud) to transmit his message, just as traditional Indigenous stories are passed down.
Bell was born in Charlesville, Queensland in 1953, a member of the Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang communities. He lives and works in Brisbane.
In 2003 Bell was awarded the '20th National Telstra Indigenous Art Award', Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory for his work 'Scientia E Metaphysica (Bells Theorem)' 2003, which bore the words 'Aboriginal Art it's a White Thing.'
He has featured in numerous exhibitions since 1990, including 'My Country, I Still Call Australia Home', Queensland Art Gallery/GoMA, Brisbane, 2013; the '4th Auckland Triennal: Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon', 2010; 'Half-Light: Portraits from Black Australia' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2009; the 9th and 16th Biennales of Sydney, 1992 and 2008; 'Culture Warriors, the National Indigenous Art Triennial', 2007; 'Australian Perspecta', 1993, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; the significant European touring exhibition 'Aratjara: art of the First Australians', 1993 and, 'Unfamiliar Territory, Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art', 1991.
In 2014, 'Embassy', a significant solo exhibition at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art featured as part of the Perth International Arts Festival and, the Artspace, Sydney exhibition 'Imagining Victory' began its tour of regional New South Wales and Victoria to 2016. In 2011 the Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne held Bell's 'Lessons On Etiquette And Manners', and 'Uz vs. them', a major touring exhibition of Bell's work was organised by the American Federation of the Arts. It premiered at Tufts University, Boston and toured to venues across North America throughout 2013, accompanied by a major publication. In 2009, an exhibition of Bell's practice to date entitled 'I am not sorry', was held at Location One, New York, with him receiving the Location One International Fellowship, for that year and in 2006 his work was the subject of the survey exhibition 'Positivity', presented by the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.