View the installation time-lapse of Dale Harding’s Wall Composition in Reckitt’s Blue 2017, specially commissioned for the Australian art collection. Aboriginal painting represents at least 99 per cent of the timeline of Australian art-making, with a verified history dating back some 28 000 years. Thousands of rock galleries throughout the landscape carry the signs of such art-making and attest to the creativity of the First Australians. This wall composition takes its inspiration from these rock paintings in and around Carnarvon Gorge in central Queensland, home to Harding’s Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal people.
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In Wall Composition in Reckitt’s Blue, Harding has introduced an ultramarine blue pigment in place of traditional rock ochres. This blue is made from a powdered laundry detergent called Reckitt’s Blue, which was popular across the colonial frontier in the late nineteenth century. As natural blue pigments were unknown to Aboriginal people, this introduced powder became a popularly traded commodity and was used to paint shields, clubs and boomerangs.
In the top right-hand corner of the work, three spectral outlines represent generations of women from Harding’s matrilineal line, who have maintained their knowledge of country. Here, they keep watch over the work in a different kind of gallery. In place of the more common stencils of hands or artefacts, Harding has used a shovel handle as a stencil form. In the same way that everyday objects, such as boomerangs and spears, were used in traditional painting, Harding has used an object at hand – a tool from the floor of his studio. Gouges in the wall simulate natural landforms, ridges and caves, but also refer to the river systems connecting Aboriginal people throughout central and south-east Queensland.
Dale Harding explains the origins, inspiration and deeper meaning of Wall Composition in Reckitt’s Blue currently on show in the reimagined Australian art collection at the Queensland Art Gallery. This wall painting allows us to consider a fuller history of art production in Australia – from Indigenous (pre-European) to colonial to contemporary times – in one richly textured and layered work.
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Feature image detail: Dale Harding Wall Composition in Reckitt’s Blue 2017