Brian Robinson 'Waru I'

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Linocut printed in black ink from one block
Edition of 40, 2010
Published by Djumbunji Press KickArts Fine Art Printmaking
Image size: 400 x 574 mm
Paper size: 695 x 900 mm
Paper type: BFK Rives white
Ink type: Heidelberg Pantone black
Editioning printer: Graham Thoem and Jessica Arsenault

Artist: Brian Robinson
Language: Kala lagaw ya

Artist bio:Brian Robinson is a multi-skilled contemporary artist, whose practice includes painting, printmaking, sculpture and design. The graphic style in his practice combines his Torres Strait Islander heritage with a strong passion for experimentation, both in theoretical approach and medium, as well as a crossing of the boundaries between reality and fantasy. The results combine styles as diverse as graffiti art through to intricate relief carvings and construction sculpture echoing images of Torres Strait cultural motifs, objects and activity. Robinson’s art reflects the tropical marine environment surrounding Waiben (Thursday Island) and the inhabitants of that environment. It is an essential part of his life and culture, imbued with the customs, traditions and lifestyles of Torres Strait Island people. The animals from ancestral stories and their presence today are an integral feature of Robinson’s work.

Robinson’s sculptural practice stems from the discipline of constructivism, a style of sculpture that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s based on carefully structured modules that allow for intricate, and in some cases infinite, patterns of repetition, sometimes used to create limitless, basically planar, screen-like formations, and sometimes employed to make more multi-dimensional structures. Surface treatments for Robinson’s sculptural works have included coconut-leaf matting, split bamboo, cowrie shells, feathers, lace, photographic prints and linocuts on paper.

His approach to printmaking in both etching and linocut is linear in composition and appearance. These prints illustrate Robinson’s depth of connection to heritage paired with his aesthetic and intellectual exploration of Western art iconography in relation and connection to Torres Strait culture.

Robinson's work has contributed significantly to the environs of Cairns, his home for two decades, through a number of major public art installations including the signature five stainless steel woven fish sculptures and fountain installed on the Cairns Esplanade in 2003. His work has been widely collected both privately and through major institutions both in Australia and overseas. From September 2010 Robinson undertook a 12-month Artist in Residence at Djumbunji Press KickArts Fine Art Printmaking Studio located in Cairns, developing an impressive body of new works in etching and linocut.

Artwork story: The Islanders' knowledge of the habits of the many forms of marine life in the Strait's waters and their highly developed skills of hunting and fishing have always assured them of a ready supply of seafood. Their knowledge of the islands and reefs, weather, tides, currents and celestial navigation was superb.

Green Turtles were hunted throughout the Strait; and females were preferred. Sometimes they were caught on the beaches, after they had finished laying their eggs in the sand. Generally however, they were caught from canoes. The hunters used either harpoons [mainly in the Western and Central Islands] or single-pronged spears [in the Eastern Islands]. The best time for hunting turtle was towards the end of the year during the mating season, when the turtles were often found floating lazily near the surface of the water, above the reefs; a time when the star constellation of Tagai appears, a celestial figure who marks a major social and seasonal change for the Torres Strait Islander people. If the hunters were able to get close enough to the turtle, one hunter would jump overboard and grasping the neck and tail end of the animal, would turn it over on its back. Others would then help haul it aboard with ropes. If the turtle was harpooned or speared, the men in the canoe would follow the rope, which was attached to the weapon, and when close enough, would jump into the water to retrieve the animal.

Traditional methods of hunting and fishing have changed little from early times to the present day, although nowadays dinghies and motorboats are used in place of canoes, and modern fishing equipment has replaced the bamboo spears and turtle-shell fish hooks.