It is important to remember that there are many different styles of art throughout Australia. In pre-European times Aborigines painted on caves, bark, on sand and on their bodies. In additions to this the walls of our huts (the building of permant/semi-permanent dwellings was much more wide spread than commonly known) were decorated with art work, as were the possum skin fur coats some tribes wore. Implements for both play & work eg. didgeridoos & boomerangs were also decorated with art. It has been said that Aborigines devoted more time to art than any other race. Orche colours were the most common as they were available in most places. However other colours (even blue) were occasionally used, if there was an available source of that colour.
Aborigines painted for secular and religious purposes. It is important to remember this, when buying art. However, sacred religious art should only be seen by initiated persons, and though some has been sold, much of what reaches the market is only partially religious. Interestingly, a large amount of dot work, particularly fine dot work was introduced to cover images that the only the initated were allowed to see or would understand the significance of. Did you know that?
Art was often used to tell a story and for educational purposes. A painting that comes with a detailed story can be a good investment piece. Does the story match the "dreamings" of the area the artist is said to come from? Or is the painting for tourists? Educate yourself about the art that belongs to different areas of Australia. Even within areas, what are the tribal symbols? Are there any totems clans should or should not use? Does the subject of the painting match the sex of the artist? eg. a female should never include a didgeridoo in a paintings. In many (though probably not all) areas of Australia only female artists paint wombats and numbats. Does the painting conform to what you have been able to learn about "genuine" works from that area? I will give you some examples here; and there are plenty of good reference books in libraries that will guide you. One tip you probably have never heard before is to examine "cave art" from the area of the artist. Cave Art is always an example of the authentic style of that area. The range of Native Australian Art is much wider than most people think. Dot Art is only one style; and is not as wide spread as is often thought. Though the Desert Artists are popular, Aboriginal Art from other areas is just getting to be better known, and could make an excellent investment piece. Genuine paintings are always painted from a certain angle; even landscapes by Aboriginal artists conform to this principle, which gives them their unique look.
Paintings by well known artists are often considered to be true investment pieces. That can be true, but it is also true that you may have to pay a fortune to buy the piece in the first place. I am not including a list of well known Aboriginal artists in this guide. This guide is written to help you determine if a painting by an artist who is not well known could be considered an investment piece.
For long term investment purposes thought should also be given to what the painting was done on, and if it needs any finishing. Much modern art is done on canvas using acrylic paint. Often though artists do not seal their work. Check if a painting has been and if not it may be wise to do so yourself. Any good Art Shop can give advise on how to do this. Personally I like paintings done on paper as it reminds me more of bark paintings. In some cases painting on paper need to be sealed as well, and great care should be given to the framing. Framing can be expensive, so if finances are limited considerations may be given to the size of the painting. Can it be put into a conventional size frame, or will one need to be specially constructed for it? A painting properly sealed & air-gaped can last for generations; so do not skimp on this. One more consideration should be if you or any of your family would find the subject of the painting offensive. As paintings can have a religious theme; this is some thing you should give thought to. Even scenes of hunting can offend some individuals. Lastly do you personally like the painting? If the answer is no; it is properly best if you don't buy that painting. Art is meant to be enjoyed. Australian Aboriginal Artists don't want their work thought of only in terms of "dollars and cents".
Have a look at the three paintings below:- how do they rate as investment pieces?
The top left one is a modern example of Dot Art. It is called Rosella Dreaming. The double dot work matches the brilliant colours of the Eastern Rosella & the whole painting illustrates the life-cycle of the birds. (Notice the birds shown flying to the water holes, their nests & to the grass seeds). It is acrylic paints on framed canvas & has been properly sealed. It is painted by a Tasmanian artist who is fairly unknown, but just starting to get a reputation. A detailed story, signed by the artist, explaining the painting is included. Should you consider buying this painting? If you like it, yes. It is a bright airy piece in colours that most people like. Tasmanian art is only just getting discovered, as is the artist whose works still sell very cheaply, so its value may increase greatly in the future. At worst, you probably would have little trouble getting your money back. Look at the picture at top right. The N.S.W. artist has painted a piece which conforms perfectly to his traditonal background using only traditional orche colours. (If you took note of what I earlier said about using 'cave art' as a guide; you could find out that he has drawn the kangaroo how it often is depicted in N.S.W. cave art. The same could be said of the waterways). He is not well known internationally, but has an excellent reputation which is rapidly improving. All positives. The negatives are that he has painted on thin canvas, which need to be carefully stretched and professionally framed. Also like many artists, he never seals his work. A detailed story is not included; although the artist has written a sentance on the back. The painting was being sold for $200. You would need to spend at least another $100 - $150 on framing etc. For that you are getting a traditional piece by an artist who may become well known in the future. Now consider the work at bottom left. It is painted by a tribal women living outside of Alice Springs. It is a lovely piece to look at. The dot work is excellent - the colours very cheerful. Would it be a good investment piece? How would you rate it? The elderly artist, though talented, is unlikely to become well known. It is tiny. It is painted on vinyl canvas, unsealed and unframed. The colours and the subject (- turtles swimming - this women comes from a desert area!) are non traditional. That said, if you want a very small beautiful painting for your wall, buy it. But understand what you have bought.
Look at this painting. How would you rate it? To begin with it is framed & sealed ready to hang. No further expenses needed except postage. Now look further. What is the painting about? Who is the artist? Is this relevant? This painting comes with an explanation from the artist. Here are some of the details:-
'"Porcupine Spikes, burn like heat of fire................" is how a European translated the beginning of a sad lament that was composed near Sydney and sung in dozens of local languages in the 1800's as Aboriginals watched their entire extended families suffer and die from small pox knowing they themselves would probably die next.' The artist then continues with why she painted using the materials she did & how this ties in to tradition. Her mob (you may call them tribe!) come from the area just outside the greater Sydney area and she has painted using an acceptable N.S.W. style. The angle is spot on. How would you rate it & how much would you pay?
Just from these few example so far you should have begun to appreciate how varied the styles of Aboriginal Art are. For investment purposes a collection of pieces that correctly depict the different styles of Aboriginal Art, including even more modern styles, could prove to be better than one or two pieces by well-known artist and certainly would cost fewer dollars.
The myth still persists in some places that only initiated persons can paint genuine Aboriginal art. As initiation has more to do with religon that culture; this is not true. Many non-initiated people have an excellent knowledge of their culture, in some cases this knowledge has been passed down to them through several generations. Since this guide is about investment art; though I don't intend to go into details of 'big-name' artists, I will mention a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, everything mentioned so far in this guide applies to all aboriginal art. Try & determine if the named famous artist actually painted the work; sometimes other family members have helped. (custom can at times allow the 'story owner' be be named as the painter.) This type of art can be very expensive, so do your research. Also no one can be a true prophet of how the future market will price works. eg as artists eyesight deterorate with age the quality of their work may go down. This could make some of their works worth less; on the other hand the fact that it is one of the last paintings they produced could send its value sky-rocketing. Please note that in most cases the artist retains copyright of his work and therefore has the right to produce & sell copies of your 'famous' piece. You can offer to buy 'copyright' with the painting.
Many feel Art is about beauty; so investment is probably only a consideration for most purchasers. (This guide can not cover everything, but if there is something you think I need to include to improve it; please feel free to email me. Some advise I have chosen to leave out, also I have only briefly touched on some matter that would take several pages to explain in full. This is just a 'guide'!) Thank you for showing enough interest in our culture to take the time to read this guide.