Lin Onus: Meaning of Life at the Counihan Gallery is an exhibition of prints by Lin Onus. The exhibition also traces Lin Onus’s development, his “apprenticeship” in the Northern Territories, to when he had truly found his voice as an artist.
Onus’s voice is always humorous and graphically clear but when he started to combine “rarrk designs” with Western naturalism he found his unique style and vision. It is a vision that could be painting, sculpture, or prints.
The early linocuts are graphically clear and show that Onus had good design skills but they lack his unique voice. His screen-prints of animals, frogs, fish and turtles, are in his mature style. They are less intense powerful than his paintings but the subtle use of the limited colours makes them very attractive. Some of these prints are collaborations with Shaike Snir from Port Jackson Press. Then there are the full colour prints from the series: the adventures of Ray and X. These are images that will even appeal to small boys, or the child in each of us. They show that Onus was part of the contemporary world of comic books and graphic novels. Their mix of lo-brow art and high art is part of the post-modern mix.
I have enjoyed Lin Onus’ art for decades. And what is not to like about it? They are good paintings and sculptures without a didactic or preaching voice to them, but they are not without content. In the future I hope that his work will continue to grow in popularity and Onus will be seen as one of the great Australian artists of the late 20th Century.
Since the colonial establishment of mission stations for Aboriginal people, like Coranderrk, near Healesville, manufactured artefacts, like baskets, boomerangs and possum skin cloaks. Changes in European attitudes to the art of indigenous people in the 20th century slowly lead to an increased demand for Australian Aboriginal arts and craft. In the 1950s aboriginal activist, Bill Onus established a factory and shop, Aboriginal Enterprises, in Melbourne’s then outer suburb of Belgrave. Bill Onus not only established a significant shop but also set the conditions for his son to become a great contemporary artist.
McLintock Onus (Lin Onus) (1948 – 1996) was a Scottish-Aboriginal artist of Wiradjuri descent. He was in a perfect position to understand and depict a popular, post-colonial, post-modern world. A world with many view points rather than a single perspective. And he was in a perfect position to create post-colonial Aboriginal culture in contemporary media.
It is not an easy thing to be both post-modern and popular but Onus did it. His installation of fruit bats on a hills hoist is very popular, even amongst Australians who aren’t interested in either contemporary art or Aboriginal art. He found a way of interpreting traditional aboriginal art and stories into images that are popular and meaningful to the modern world.
Lin Onus: Meaning of Life is a touring exhibition by Maroondah Art Gallery that has been subtly and coherently curated by Damian Smith and Anthony Fitzpatrick. The exhibition is part of Moreland City Council’s celebration of NAIDOC week.