Danie Mellor was born of Aboriginal and European ancestry and he maintains strong links with his mother’s Country on the Atherton Tablelands in far north Queensland.
His practice focuses on the historical intersections of people, ideas and culture, and draws upon multiple traditions and perspectives in order to explore changing conceptions of the landscape.
A highly distinctive feature of his meticulously rendered works on paper is the predominant palette of blue and white which originally stemmed from his interest in the popular china produced by Spode, an English ceramic company whose founding in 1770 coincided with the mapping of the east coast of Australia by Captain James Cook. As the artist explains the: ‘Blue and white engravings that were used for decoration on English dinnerware … marked a significant period in which “exotic” cultures and environments were adapted and commoditised as illustrative vignettes on fine bone china … This [visual] language … is used in my work as means to show the transformed environment and country, a place that became changed through its development as part of empire. The colour blue then indicates a European footprint and gaze … The Aboriginal people and animals that are depicted are naturalistic, or “real”; it is their country around them that has become changed’. More recently however, Mellor’s investigations into how conceptions of the colour blue have evolved over time and in different cultural contexts, has seen his application of this colour broaden both in scale and apprehension. In a series of large, unframed multi-panel works, the material and metaphysical properties of the colour are drawn out to full effect, generating a palpable atmosphere that evokes the numinous qualities present in these ancient forest ecologies.
The title of this work translates as ‘spirit in the forest clearing’. As the artist explains, ‘Bayi dambun is a spirit of the forest, and can be used to describe both masculine and feminine properties of a supernatural presence. The jawun, or bicornial baskets, being placed by one of the figures in the image were used as important vessels in ceremony. In some cases these were painted with ochre designs, and used as funerary baskets for the remains of important members of the community’. The large scale of the work immerses the viewer within a monumental rainforest canopy of sprawling fig trees, an evocative space in which we silently bear witness to the enactment of a sacred ritual revolving around the cycle of life and death. It forms part of an ongoing series in which Mellor not only examines ‘the nature of ceremony within the landscape’, but also represents ‘the everyday activities that form part of daily life in rainforest environments’ as a means to ‘emphasise the importance of connection with those environs and ecologies. It suggests a knowledge system is being applied that relates to heightened understanding of seasonal cycles and an awareness of one’s place in nature’.
- Artist statement, ‘About Danie Mellor’ in Learning Resource written by Gillian Ridsdale to accompany the exhibition Danie Mellor: Exotic Lies Sacred Ties, Brisbane: UQ Art Museum, 2014, p. 5.
- Artist statement, Primordial: SuperNaturalBayiMinyjirral National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2014.
- Danie Mellor, email to the author, 15 June 2016.