Danie Mellor - A History of Image

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'A History of Images' marks the first time

I’m actively trying to convey the complexity of having

Aboriginal and colonial settler ancestry.

This is my past and our past; this is also our present.

My suite of paintings, A History of Images, provides an intimate glimpse into a pictorial past. It’s a collection of experiences that lie in archival memory beyond our tangible reach. Increasingly, my work’s become entwined with the photograph and its importance as a reference point and source material - a signifier, in this case, of a late-colonial gaze documenting a rapidly changing environment.

The paintings bring Aboriginal and white settler people together in an open-ended series that almost seems like pages from a book, a select and edited sequence of images that open a window of time. Painted in acrylic on board with an often pronounced wood grain, these works are finished with a wash of gesso (usually used as a primer beneath a painting) and iridescent medium. This pale layer is a literal and symbolic whitewashing; the image optically recedes, as if into time. The disrupted surface also replicates the foxing (brown spots) and ghosting found in old photographs, authenticating the objects as belonging to another era.

Photographs from the late-colonial era, particularly those showing Indigenous people, are inextricably bound to settler power, verging on a kind of pictographic and documentary hegemony. Subjects have no right of reply, no means of guiding or even rebutting our reading and interpretation. The gentle, often profound violence in the activity of looking at interesting, quixotically ‘other’ people and things - in this case, from the past - is a well-founded and explored strand of post-colonial theory. While exploration of this issue isn’t a new development or novel theme in my work, A History of Images marks the first time I’m actively trying to convey the complexity of having Aboriginal and colonial settler ancestry. This is my past and our past; this is also our present. While it’s a series that suggests the complications and implications of our history by placing these images together, it’s also most profoundly the consequence and a chronicle of looking.

Danie Mellor, On the edge of darkness (the sun also sets), 2020. Installation view by Andrew Curtis

Foregrounding this new series is the triptych On the edge of darkness (the sun also sets). Painted a year before the series was conceived, it lays a foundation of time and place. It also maps out the space in which A History of Images principally unfolds: the mountainous Atherton Tablelands of Far North Queensland form the background behind which the sun sets. This encompassing and large-scale piece activates the splintered, if cohesive, narrative of the new paintings. Both tell a deeply consequential story of human experience, together augmenting the ongoing chronicles of history.
– Danie Mellor, September 2021

Portraits of change: asking questions of the viewer

Danie Mellor
'A land of shadows', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
30 x 35 cm

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Danie Mellor
'Images of place', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
25 x 32 cm

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Danie Mellor
'The encounter', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
34 x 27.5 cm

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Danie Mellor
'Take me away', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
28 x 29 cm

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Danie Mellor
'Baybu (the pipe)', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
30 x 25 cm

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A continuance before the change: nature, ceremony, tradition. Then: the bridge, a passage to the Other. Destruction and sorrow.

Danie Mellor
'The work of nature (wurruny)', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
32 x 30 cm

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Danie Mellor
'The need for myth (jujaba)', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
47 x 32 cm

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Danie Mellor
'Yugubarra (the departure)', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
31.5 x 32 cm

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Danie Mellor
'The bridge', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
32 x 23 cm

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Danie Mellor
'The clearing', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
27.6 x 46.5 cm

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Danie Mellor
'Memory of shadows', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
31 x 46 cm

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Taking, grasping, holding, mourning.

Danie Mellor
'Stories of gain', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
29 x 28 cm

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Danie Mellor
'Spectres of memory', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
30 x 23 cm

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Danie Mellor
'Warrgin (at the boundary of forests)', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
26 x 32 cm

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Danie Mellor
'The consolation (wungumali)', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
41 x 46 cm

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Danie Mellor
'Monument', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
34 x 30 cm

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Danie Mellor
'At the edge of forests', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
29.5 x 29 cm

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Danie Mellor
'Afternoons (bili-nyu)', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
34.5 x 27.5 cm

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Changes in the landscape, a new order and power structure.

Danie Mellor
'Promises', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
42.5 x 32.5 cm

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Danie Mellor
'The departure', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
30 x 19 cm

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Danie Mellor
'Waiting (anticipating the other)', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
22 x 26.5 cm

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Danie Mellor
'History (untitled)', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
43 x 65 cm (overall)

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Danie Mellor
'Coolara (the boundary)', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
42.5 x 42.5 cm

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Danie Mellor
'Certitude', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
57 x 65 cm

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Danie Mellor
'Jinganyu (a story of place)', 2021
Acrylic on board with gesso and iridescent wash
32 x 49 cm

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DANIE MELLOR

Danie Mellor is a contemporary artist living and working in Bowral, New South Wales. His multidisciplinary research and practice explore intersections between contemporary and historic culture, and the legacies of cultural memory and knowledge. Born in Mackay, North Queensland, his maternal family heritage is Aboriginal with Scottish and Irish settler ancestry from the Atherton Tablelands and Cairns region, and his father’s family emigrated to Australia from California in the early 1900s.

Mellor’s work is held in regional, state, and national collections, including the NGA and MCA Australia, and international museums including the National Gallery of Canada, The British Museum, and National Museums Scotland. His work has received major awards, acquisitions, and commissions including the MCA Australia’s Sculpture Commission in 2019, the National Gallery of Australia Member’s 2019 Acquisition Fund, and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2009. He was awarded his PhD from the Australian National University in 2005 and held positions of lecturer and senior lecturer at the National Institute of the Arts, ANU and then Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney.

In 2010 he was appointed to the Visual Arts Board at the Australia Council for the Arts and subsequently served as Chair of Artform until 2015. In 2020 he was appointed to the Board of MCA Australia and the Visual Arts Board of Create NSW.


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