Brian Robinson: Of myths and legends

In August 2013 BRIAN ROBINSON won the Western Australian Indigenous Art Award, the countries richest Indigenous art prize. In this blog BRIAN ROBINSON talks to PETER HYLANDS about his men + GODS exhibition (KickArts, Cairns, North Queensland 2012). Brian’s exhibition takes us on a visual journey through a world of mythology, a journey of tension between men and Gods.

'But the uniqueness of the men + GODS exhibition was that it took Indigenous mythology and elements and juxtaposed these with classical western notions of art and beauty and romance'

Men + GODS, quite an epic exhibition for me that I had been thinking about over a number of years and I was allowing time for a lot of the imagery to secure themselves. After a while I then started to build some of these sculptures and print based works.

The essence and the basis for the exhibition is that it was a story telling exhibition. Just like any other exhibition really, they are all story based. But the uniqueness of the men + GODS exhibition was that it took Indigenous mythology and elements and juxtaposed these with classical western notions of art and beauty and romance. These are the myths and legends that also came from western culture, specifically from the Greeks, who had a very strong mythology.

Harvest season 1: Linocut from one block, Djumbunji Press, Courtesy of the artist and KickArts

There was a lot of research and if you look into my studio it is part library because I have so many books and I am constantly referencing and researching various art forms, ideas, images and things like that to pull back into my work. The exhibition men + GODS was a perfect example of that.

I spent about a year on actually creating the exhibition so that was a really intensive period of time when I created the images and sculptural works. Probably the thing that assisted the most was a twelve month long residency that I had at Djumbunji Press. This had allowed me the full year to develop particular images for that exhibition.

There are a lot of Gods in these images as they relate to earthly beings and I think that is the beauty of lots of myths and legends internationally. That is they bounce ideas between the God figures and their high status and everyday man on earth. The clashes and all the stuff that happens between them, this tension is always present right throughout other cultural works. There are always similarities between the myths and legends of different cultures.

When you read a lot you start to tease out these similarities and that is what I was actually doing with the men + GODS exhibition looking at my Indigenous cultural background, the stories, whether they are fiction or non fiction and researching and looking at all the other myths and legends out there and teasing out those similarities. Then seeing where they can be melded together to create an extension of that myth or legend or to create an entirely new myth.

When you think about the human story around the world it is quite remarkable that some of these legends have such similarities. So that was a really interesting process to follow. A lot of the works in the exhibition were prints and print making so there was a lot of carving involved in creating all the images, so that was a big part of the process. The majority of the time working for that show was spent carving into lino, either Silk Cut lino or floor linoleum. There were twelve lino cuts and three to four etchings in that show. The production time for those you are probably looking at about four months solid work.

There was not only my work but also the time consuming work for the printer who had to print some of these very intricate linocuts.

One of the great things to come out of the exhibition, and exhibitions don’t last forever. is the fantastic book men + GODS published by KickArts and the Djumbunji Press. The publication probably took just as long as creating the exhibition, both time wise and intellectually, putting thoughts into the publication. There were a number of writers we had to initially target and get their okay that they would write for the publication. While the publication was attached to a particular exhibition it was created so that there was a timeless element to it. It was really a publication that looked at my arts practice from my time as a young kid growing up on TI (Thursday Island) and the artistic career that I have forged for myself.