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Danie Mellor is a contemporary Indigenous artist. Winner of the 2009 Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award, he currently lectures at Sydney College of the Arts.
‘I love his work,’ says Paul Ryan. ‘It makes such interesting comment on the complex relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures. Because he has a foot in both camps, he embodies what Australia is. He’s a great looking guy with beautiful red hair – in fact, there was a bit of controversy in some circles when he won the Telstra Award last year because he didn’t look very Indigenous.
After discussing the portrait and its title with Mellor, Ryan settled on a dark background landscape of Norfolk Pines, which are not native to Australia. ‘The land is an important part of Danie’s story,’ says Ryan. ‘The massive shadow from the Norfolk Pines represents colonisation and the attempt to block out Australia’s Indigenous cultures. It looks like he’s walking the songlines of this land, even if many of its Indigenous people have been wiped out.’
The title of the portrait is both an ironic reference to the famous John Williams song and an acknowledgment of the importance of the colour blue in Mellor’s work. ‘The Indigenous cultures had a word for sky and ocean but not for blue,’ says Ryan. ‘They didn’t have blue pigment so it doesn’t feature in traditional Aboriginal art but Danie uses it a lot. He has used blue and white crockery fragments, for example, in reference to colonisation.’
As for the decision not to take the paint to the edge of the canvas, Ryan likes the idea of ‘an organic shape not being confined by a rectangle. My work in last year’s Wynne Prize featured a similar floating landscape.’
Born in Auckland in 1964, Ryan graduated from the University of Wollongong in 1990 with a Bachelor of Creative Arts. He has had regular solo exhibitions since 1988 and has been included in many group shows. This is his ninth time in the Archibald Prize. He has also been a three-time finalist in both the Wynne and Sulman Prizes.