Lin Onus In this essay I shall be exploring the art of contemporary Australian artist, Lin Onus (1948-1996) and explaining the themes, meanings, and other features of his paintings. I shall also delve into the life of this legendary aboriginal artist and the different meanings of his works. Lin onus was an only child born to an aboriginal father and a Scottish mother in Melbourne, Victoria. His love of art began of a young age, as he helped his father Bill makes aboriginal artifacts like didgeridoos. Onus was also influenced by his mother’s cultural heritage, acquiring a taste for classical art styles.
Onus first trained as a mechanic before beginning his art career, but throughout this time he remained connected with his aboriginal relatives in the Arnhem Land. He became quite close to an aboriginal elder called Jack Wunuwun who was also his mentor and talented artist. His first exhibition was held in Melbourne 1975, in the following years he held more then 18 solo exhibitions. Onus art style is a merging of western realist art styles and traditional aboriginal art. When he was younger he developed his ability to paint in the western style and throughout his life he learnt more about aboriginal art styles.
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So with knowledge of the two markedly different styles Onus was able to merge them to create his own distinct art style. A great example of his hybrid art style is his famous painting “Michael and I are slipping down to the pub for a minute” (see image) in this painting he uses thick paint, contrasting colors, and the sea spray is made of dots. However the sky and clouds are clearly realistic and the ocean is created with long fluid brush strokes, also the shape and body of the dingo/dog is reminiscent of realism art.
This painting has aspects of both cultures and styles this style of painting is unique to Onus as very few people have such a deep understanding of both art styles, and only Onus has been able to have both styles on the same canvas and create a work that is visually appealing. Onus art has a wide variety of themes but most of them have some sort of political undertone. Onus has always been passionate about the rights of aboriginals and the social injustice they continue to face, however onus uses humor within his works to portray his message in a more approachable way.
Take for instance the use of humor within the title of his painting (previous page) “Michael and I are just slipping down to the pub for a minute”. The themes of Onus paintings are unlike other paintings about political and social injustice that are anything but pleasant, Onus recognized that humor and subtly is a better way to get though to his audiences then a direct conveyance of his anger. Onus is also able to share his views on social injustice though art with great effect, this is partly because of his understanding of both cultures which few other political activists of the time had.
Due to Onus’s heritage he was able to acquire a unique perspective on the discrimination against aboriginals. Lin Onus uses symbolism within his works often to make references to certain aspects of cultures. In all of Onus’ paintings there are subtle references to either Western or Aboriginal cultures. His most recognized use of symbolism is the dingo riding a stingray in Michael and I are just slipping down to the pub for a bit where the two animals were symbolic of his mother’s and his father’s cultures merging together riding the wave of reconciliation.
Onus’ art requires use of symbols to portray the picture’s subtext in an indirect way. It is the many subtle references using symbols within Onus’ work that contributes to the unique nature of his art. Onus had a childhood that gave him a unique insight into Western and Aboriginal cultures. Then throughout his life he became a great painter using the techniques of the two cultures and ultimately merging them together. This unusual way of painting helped him to convey the messages of reconciliation within his many paintings.
The themes of his paintings are usually based around social and political discrimination regarding Aboriginals, although there is quite a bit of humor to be found also. The most notable unique feature of Onus’ art was his use of symbols regarding the two cultures to which he belonged. Onus endeavored to help close the gap between cultures in Australia with his art, and now after his death he is regarded as one of the greatest advocates of reconciliation in Australian history. “I hope… that history may see me as some sort of bridge… etween… cultures. “?? – Lin Onus, artist’s statement Painters Gallery, Sydney, 1990. Reference list Australian fine art editions (2009) [online], available at: http://australianfinearteditions. com/pages/artists_details. php? artistID=5 A. O. November 10th 2009 Whitehat (2009) [online], available at: http://www. whitehat. com. au/Melbourne/People/Onus. asp A. O. November 10th 2009 Art nomad (2009) [online images], available at: http://www. artnomad. com. au/artists/artist. cfm? id=1021 A. O. November 14th 2009