In 2014 in Villa Borghese, Rome, was host to an exhibition called Dreamings, an amazing collection of art, that it seems can only be linked by metaphysics in its second meaning – a study of what is outside objective experience – maybe of dreamtime.
The exhibition was ‘Dreamings’ and it links three sources of art, Australian Aboriginals of the Western Desert, Giorgio De Chirico, the Italian founder of the metaphysical art movement in Europe 100 years ago, and Imants Tillers a renowned Australian contemporary artist of Latvian parents.
The Dreamings exhibition also links widely separate geography because the source of the paintings by Australian Aboriginals is Cap D’Antibes, the collection of two French businessmen, Marc Sordello and Francis Missana.
The location for the exhibition, Rome, remains a conundrum for the visitor to fully solve. The site relates to the existence of the De Chirico collection at the museum. This collection is from the later period when he had abandoned metaphysics for pseudo-baroque, following artists such as Rubens, and effectively damning his metaphysical period, which period is also recalled by his book ‘Hebdomeros, the Metaphysician’ from 1930.
And this is where the obscure literary link to Australia commences, with the mention of the city of Melbourne, now one of the largest ’Italian’ cities in the world.
Aboriginal art in Australia dates back about 30,000 years in the case of the accurately dated cave paintings in northern Australia. These paintings and others predate any other culture in the world and interestingly, some paintings and engravings are of now-extinct animals – more than just dreamings. Painting was a continuous art form for the aborigines since that ancient time and varied depending on the location. Sand, dot and bark painting are historical and representative of the particular group. The ancient paintings referred to the ‘dreamtime’.
However, the art in this Dreamings exhibition comes from a very small number of communities spread over deserts about the size of western Europe. This art is contemporary, and is commercial, arising from the stimulation in about 1971 by a school teacher at the Papunya Tula centre near Alice Springs. Much of the art still draws on the historical techniques but it avoids the linkages to the ’soul’, the metaphysical dreamtime links.
Imants Tillers made a conscious effort to collaborate with these desert aboriginal artists and has linked his work, shown in Rome, both in style and in practice to the aboriginal art of the deserts. It is also through Tillers that we can connect to de Chirico as his work was significantly influenced by the wide artistry of de Chirico.