ARC one Gallery

2008

AS HE SEES IT:
CONFRONTING ADAM HILL
ON CANVAS

I struggle to remember dates and  numbers, but I will admit to remarkable powers of retention for artwork, recalling a framed A4 size, pencil sketch  that was to be the prelude for my introduction to Adam Hill.

Nearly  II years ago I spotted  one particular artwork on the cluttered walls of an Aboriginal art gallery located in Penrith,  NSW Promoted  as an Aboriginal Art Centre,

this warehouse enterprise engaged artists to make iconic cultural objects. Production focused on painted didgeridoos, slapsticks, and  canvases, painted rocks; actually JUSt about anything the owners could mass-produce for the emerging market for “authentic”  souvenirs.

But this particular A4 sketch  was  . . impressive, an

illust ration  that was distinguishable from the predictable ocher  dots of bush tucker. I sensed the colossal personality embodied within  this simple drawing of a cartoonish, cheeky female figure. She seemed to taunt  and  tease the viewer by peaking out from behind a single tree trunk situated in a forest of graphically banded trees.  “This artist has a great sense of humour,” I candidly affirmed to the gallery attendant who replied, “That’s young Adam  Hill”.

Soon after we met I recruited Adam  Hill to work with me for an  NGO (non-government organisation) and  a small team based throughout Australia. During this time he was able

to foster insightful relationships with some of Australia’s greatest  Indigenous leaders including; artists, church leaders, Indigenous doctors working in preventative health,  business representatives and  passionate social advocates. Our team was continually bombarded with issues requiring urgent responses such as calls for help from remote communities without adequate medical care or sufficient teachers. The staff was entwined with monumental events,  the first Sorry Day, stolen generation projects, and  encountered life changing people and  experiences. With opportunities to visit remote communities,  regional schools and  businesses Adam Hill was armed to share and learn as well as to educate and advocate.

These significant relationships and  varied experiences have informed  and shaped Hill’s artistic calling. His artistic

metamorphosis is blatant;  he relocates unspeakable secrets, kept hidden, by moving the primary figure or issue to the fore-front. Hill’s narrative in Altered Boys describes the unimaginable mistreatment of innocent trust that festers for generations and  then fosters guilt, fear and  abuse in many communities, exposing a full frontal penis trilogy.

Hill’s personal journey  of identity  parallels a broader investigation of social  history.  His life experiences and those of others he has assimilated dredge up internalised anger and  frustration. These emotions are  the motivation for his work. In There’s a Whole in My Bucket Mt !sa,

Hill places the inquisitive brown baby inside  the dozer’s bucket,  an effective Juxtaposition between basic  human requirements for nurturing and safety are abandoned for a landscape that has  been  pillaged for all it is worth.

Yet Hill’s works are multi-layered digging up what  lies beneath the surface, complex issues are not simply black and white, encountering all of the hues  in between.

To acknowledge there  is hope,  he paints rays of light,

illuminated by silver lined clouds.

Highlighting that throughout Australia, mining  companies occupy Aboriginal lands, and by working collaboratively with Government and  the local community these componies have the capacity to positively  transform communities.

Mission Statement conveys a lonely boy’s isolation playing on graves of a community left with the consequences of failed government policies, evoking experiences of many remote NT communities. In contrast. K9v’s Bloodline on the Breadline embodies the power  to take back control. The boy reasserts himself by giving the Government a shot of its own medicine using a traditional nulla-nulla and  ‘spearinge’ to shoo away a ferocious intervention policy, disguised as a guard dog.

Historical reference informs  much  of the work in the exhibition and maintaining a sense of ironic  humour is a well-known hallmark of Adam Hill’s paintings. In Heads Will Roll the cheeky trickster  (Pemullwuy) has evolved into an  increasingly sinister character. The traditional elder now identifies with a present day Middle Eastern

terrorist; strapped  with a bomb he is willing  to sacrifice himself for the cause.

For Hill it is not possible to separate the present from

the past and  in Duck You Average C”• he illustrates his knowledge and  passion for sporti ng history. The solo batsman figure is a visual  challenge to Donald  Brodman’s public dismissal of the contribution made by Indigenous Cricketer Eddy Gilbert (Dec.). Underlying the painting is an unanswered question, why didn’t  Brodman extend Gilbert  the acknowledgement he rightly deserved? Hill’s rebuttal is embedded in the title of the painting, delivering to the lay-person a grassroots lesson  in Koori slang. The blunt use of an expletive that is precieved with a cringe

of embarrassment by many is used  innumerably by the urban Koori. and  most often NOT in reference to female genitalia. Text is another trademark tool, branding Adam Hill as the author of the work. Twisting a single word or restringing the everyday phrase to introduce a message, such  Justice Now, inscribed on the hypodermic needle, manipulates everyday expressions to unashamedly hammer the message. In the work, It Took a Barmy Army to Stop Him, the signpost within the canvas warns the torch-baring runner, “Long Way, Go Black”.

Frustration is often the catalyst  of innovation, and  this Sydney-based Dhungatti man continues to create artwork that shouts about  injustice, anguishes for the environment and  exhumes humour encrusted with historical. environmental social and  political controversy. Adam  Hill admits that his work is confrontational, and  I agree, it is. But those who find the work too challenging to live with may need to consider a life changing shift. No one can  remain hidden behind the tree anymore; it is time to step out of from the forest of denial and  step into the light.  Bring it on Adam.

Vicki Salisbury

Vicki Salisbury is currently the Director of Umbrella Studio of Contemporary Art in Townsville. Working in partnership with Indigenous Business Australia she is coordinating the development and production of the first major collection of printed works on paper from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Artist who live and work in the North Queensland region.