Richard Bell / Kamilaroi/Jiman/Kooma people / Australia b.1953 / Judgement Day (Bell’s Theorem) 2008 / Synthetic polymer paint on canvas / 240 x 360cm / The James C. Sourris AM Collection. Gift of James C. Sourris AM through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2013. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Richard Bell
Judgement Day (Bell’s Theorem) 2008

On Display: QAG, Gallery 13

In Judgement Day (Bell’s Theorem) 2008, the statement ‘Australian art does not exist’, stands out in bold white letters on the surface of the image, drawing attention to the problem of defining ‘Australian Art’. Though text based, ‘Bell’s theorem’ is extrapolated through the sophisticated manipulation of visual languages.

Bell interlocks squares of colour patterned with horizontal and vertical lines, and concentric circles interwoven with a large central target. The patterning recalls the dots and circles commonly associated with ‘authentic’ Aboriginal Art, which became fodder for the tourism souvenir market. Here, Bell has used the motifs to highlight the reliance of Australian artists on the sophisticated techniques and practices of Indigenous artists to create art that reflects characteristics of nationhood.

The drips and streaks of paint spattered across the surface of the picture plane recall Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionism, pointing to the reliance of Australian Art on the practices and traditions of other nations, most notably the United States. Richard Bell uses these practices, which feature across the series of works collectively titled ‘Bell’s Theorems’, that speak to the issues inherent within Australian and Indigenous Australian art and society.

Richard Bell was born in Charleville, Queensland in 1953. His mother was of the Kamilaroi people and his father, a stockman, was Jiman. Richard was raised in the Mitchell area on the western Darling Downs, Queensland. After living and working in Moree and Sydney in the early 1980s, Bell moved to Brisbane in 1987 and began to paint.

Like other contemporary Aboriginal artists such as Lin Onus (1948–96) and Robert Campbell Jnr (1944–93), Bell began his artistic career painting boomerangs for tourists. Through these early beginnings, he developed an ability to render the patterns and motifs of Aboriginal art as elegant design.

However, the body of work he has been producing since the early 1990s has often been bluntly ‘inelegant’, and Bell uses text as the most direct means of conveying his point of view. An activist as much as an artist, he works across different media to produce complex, provocative and often humorous works that challenge preconceived ideas of Aboriginal art.