6 April 2008 1:20 PM
Spanning thirty years, Richard Whitehead’s painting and drawing practice reveals an abiding interest in the ways that space and place accumulate, create, and evoke meaning. If in earlier works this inquiry has pictured moody but still figurative natural and built landscapes, in his most recent body of paintings Whitehead references a seminal abstract territory, that of Aboriginal artwork. In doing so, he completes, as it were, the oddest of trajectories, given that Aboriginal painting came about at the behest of white Australian management, as a means of capturing into a controllable, sellable objet d’art the ancient earthwork practice of the country’s native peoples. At its heart, however, this fabricated style of landscape painting still references the extraordinary Aboriginal understanding of the earth, especially in terms of Songlines, and clearly it is these ideas—and not ones about the art market or colonialism—that Whitehead wishes to evoke in his own works. Whether or not this can be achieved remains to be seen, as the specter of colonialism is a sticky one, hard to shake under even the best of intentions.