Australia’s TarraWarra Museum of Art hosts a 12-year survey exhibition of contemporary indigenous artist Danie Mellor.

Australian artist Danie Mellor’s 12-year survey exhibition runs at the TarraWarra Museum of Art from 10 May to 27 July 2014. The exhibition showcases a diverse practice of sculpture, mixed-media watercolours and trademark blue-and-white drawings that offer a captivating perspective on history and postcolonial identity.

Danie Mellor, 'Memento Mori', 2009, pastel, pencil, glitter, Swarovski crystal and wash on Saunders Waterford paper, 153 x 176 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

Danie Mellor, ‘Memento Mori’, 2009, pastel, pencil, glitter, Swarovski crystal and wash on Saunders Waterford paper, 153 x 176 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

Entitled “Danie Mellor: Exotic Lies Sacred Ties”, the exhibition divides 50 paintings and installations into engaging themes. The works are drawn from public and private collections and together form the first large-scale retrospective reviewing Danie Mellor’s significant contributions to contemporary Australian art.

On tour from the University of Queensland Art Museum, the exhibition will next show at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory from 29 August to 16 November 2014.

When blue meets white 

Mellor’s signature blue-and-white colour scheme appropriates the design of willow-patterned china manufactured by the English firm Spode in the late eighteenth century: the time of European settlement in Australia. The blue landscapes represent colonisation’s damage to the green Queensland environment. In an intriguing hybridisation of Aboriginality and colonial history, Mellor weaves his own narratives by inserting colourful animals and Aborigines into the tableaux, parodying the way European culture imposed itself on Australia’s inhabitants.

Danie Mellor, 'Bayi Minyirral', 2013, pastel, pencil and wash on Saunders Waterford paper nine panels, 300 x 360 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

Danie Mellor, ‘Bayi Minyirral’, 2013, pastel, pencil and wash on Saunders Waterford paper nine panels, 300 x 360 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

In curator Maudie Palmer’s words,

His visual narrative relies on manipulating British imagery from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, specifically iconography borrowed from blue and white Spode china, which he layers with his own record of the cultural differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.

Danie Mellor, 'Et in arcadia ego (of landscape and memory)', 2008, pastel, pencil, glitter, Swarovski crystal and wash on Saunders Waterford paper, 152 x 226 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

Danie Mellor, ‘Et in arcadia ego (of landscape and memory)’, 2008, pastel, pencil, glitter, Swarovski crystal and wash on Saunders Waterford paper, 152 x 226 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

All that glitters is not gold

Mellor’s canvases are laced with glitter, Swarovski crystals and flower borders set in ornate gold frames reminiscent of the Imperial era. Where there are animals, they are seldom threatening, appearing whimsical and even kitschy, inviting the viewer into the picture. This friendliness, combined with the exquisite beauty of surface material, seduces and disarms the viewer, and the darker themes – death, loss of culture, and the dislocation of natives from their native lands – quietly sink in without warning.

Danie Mellor, 'The promised land', 2009, pastel, pencil, glitter, Swarovski crystal and wash on Saunders Waterford paper, 88 x 118.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

Danie Mellor, ‘The promised land’, 2009, pastel, pencil, glitter, Swarovski crystal and wash on Saunders Waterford paper, 88 x 118.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

Danie Mellor, 'Culture warriors', 2008, pastel, pencil and wash with glitter and Swarovski crystal on Saunders Waterford paper, 147 x 195 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

Danie Mellor, ‘Culture warriors’, 2008, pastel, pencil and wash with glitter and Swarovski crystal on Saunders Waterford paper, 147 x 195 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

In From rite to ritual (2009), which won the prestigious Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Straight Islander Art Award in 2009, Mellor portrays a graceful yet quietly sinister amalgamation of indigenous and Masonic initiation tropes. The ambitious and powerful work explores the uneasy encounter between indigenous and settler cultures, spiritual traditions, and ceremonies.

Danie Mellor, 'From rite to ritual', 2009, oil, wax pastel with pencil, glitter and Swarovski crystal on Saunders Waterford paper 178 x 133.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

Danie Mellor, ‘From rite to ritual’, 2009, oil, wax pastel with pencil, glitter and Swarovski crystal on Saunders Waterford paper 178 x 133.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

Danie Mellor, 'Piccaninny paradise', 2010, pastel, pencil, glitter, Swarovski crystal and wash on Saunders Waterford paper, 143 x 171 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

Danie Mellor, ‘Piccaninny paradise’, 2010, pastel, pencil, glitter, Swarovski crystal and wash on Saunders Waterford paper, 143 x 171 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

The large skull in Piccaninny paradise (2010) invokes a clear message of mortality, alluding to the fact that Aborigines were treated as specimens instead of people. 

Mellor acknowledges the influence of artists as diverse as Francisco Goya, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.

Exotic lies and sacred ties

In the installation Exotic lies and sacred ties (the heart that conceals, the tongue that never reveals) (2008), the piece from which the show takes its title, Mellor directly confronts the viewer’s blindness to history and the lies of the past. The work mimics a museum diorama and critiques the depiction of Aboriginal people as exotic curiosities.

Danie Mellor, 'Exotic lies and sacred ties (the heart that conceals, the tongue that never reveals)', 2008, pastel, pencil, glitter, Swarovski crystal and wash on paper, framed, with mosaic chi taxidermy animals and painted wood, 325 x 325 x 130 cm variable. Image courtesy the University of Queensland.

Danie Mellor, ‘Exotic lies and sacred ties (the heart that conceals, the tongue that never reveals)’, 2008, pastel, pencil, glitter, Swarovski crystal and wash on paper, framed, with mosaic chi taxidermy animals and painted wood, 325 x 325 x 130 cm variable. Image courtesy the University of Queensland.

Meanwhile, three kangaroos in Red, white and blue (2008) close their eyes to the injustices of war and degradation, themselves encrusted in the three colours of colonising flags.

Danie Mellor, 'Red, white and blue', 2008, mixed media with mosaic and taxidermy variable, tallest 105 cm. Image courtesy the Australian Museum.

Danie Mellor, ‘Red, white and blue’, 2008, mixed media with mosaic and taxidermy variable, tallest 105 cm. Image courtesy the Australian Museum.

Though dealing with weighty issues, Mellor’s work remains humorous, layered with witticisms: in The native’s chest (2010) an emu stands on a sign that reads “CULTURED”, and Advance Australia fair (2008) features a golden mosaic kangaroo holding a gold rifle on a neon word “illumined”.

Danie Mellor, 'Advance Australia fair', 2008, taxidermy, mosaic china, painted timber, artificial rock, gold leaf, neon and found objects, 152 x 74 x 78 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

Danie Mellor, ‘Advance Australia fair’, 2008, taxidermy, mosaic china, painted timber, artificial rock, gold leaf, neon and found objects, 152 x 74 x 78 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

Finally, Anima (2014), a recently completed chromed-bronze sculpture of a malformed kangaroo, embodies the gist of Mellor’s message. With truncated limbs and ears, the hollow gaze of the deformed creature prompts a compelling interrogation into the icons and received history of Australia.

Danie Mellor, 'Anima', 2014, chrome-plated bronze and patina, 164 x 60 x 98 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

Danie Mellor, ‘Anima’, 2014, chrome-plated bronze and patina, 164 x 60 x 98 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Michael Reid, Sydney.

About the artist

Born in Queensland to an Irish and Scots Aboriginal mother, Danie Mellor’s powerful visual language stems from a deep concern about his own indigenous heritage. An academic and an artist, Mellor is mindful of his role in both art and education. He said in an interview with Craft Australia that

Whether as part of exhibiting or publishing research, my position involves story-telling and narration that takes into account shared histories. My background enables a perspective and career that is unique, but it’s one that is part of a greater whole that includes the voices of other artists.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Australian art, Australian artists, picture feasts, touring exhibitions, mixed media, bronze art, art about memory, historical art, jewel art

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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