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 illustration 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 companies 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.
Underlying the painting is an unanswered question, why didn’t Bradman 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 perceived 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 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.