Duncan Smith OAM: Back to Country
Exhibition showing until Saturday 12 August, 2023
A retrospective, combining new and old works, Back to Country, tracks the development of Duncan’s practice. Informed by and investigating his cultural roots and knowledge, Duncan’s painting connects him to his ancestors.
Dreamtime Stories to Art is a workshop open to children of all ages, indigenous and non-indigenous (under 5’s should be accompanied by an adult). Hear proud Wiradjuri man Duncan Smith OAM tell a story from the Dreamtime and take inspiration for your drawing in pencil.
Something of a retrospective, combining new and old works, Back to Country, tracks the development of Duncan’s work over many years by combining new and old works. Painting for Duncan has always been informed by his cultural roots and knowledge. It has also been a means for Duncan to investigate and reclaim heritage. Through this tangible practice, he feels a strong connection to his ancestors.
Best known as a performer and leader of Wiradjuri Echoes a dance group her founded as a family business, Duncan’s journey as a visual artist has included large, commissioned pieces and a series of exhibitions over the years. Discussions with elders, field trips and museum-based research into Wiradjuri scar trees has informed his work, in particular for exhibitions at Belconnen Arts Centre. Patterns of the Past in 2014 reimagined scar tree markings in monolithic canvases, including series of three, four metre high works in the West Gallery. A few years later he showed a series of monochromatic works on paper, featuring concentric patterns that vibrated on the surfaces.
When I asked Duncan about the exacting mark making in these optical art pieces, he admitted that he finds painting relaxing; it is his happy place. I believe he enters a meditative state, which has long been proposed as a place where the artist’s subconscious comes to the fore and allows connection to the spirit world. Duncan confided that as he paints, he feels not just a connection to his ancestors, but as if they are guiding or directing his actions. Working through this intuitive process, he says he feels a strong sense of approval when he is on the right track. In this way, he has come to understand that keeping culture strong and sharing his knowledge with younger generations is his life’s work and a sacred duty.
Duncan’s most recent works in Back to Country, relate to his travels in Wiradjuri lands through their use of colour. Yellows and whites dance on a black background, suggesting flowering plants emerging from scorched earth after rain. Blue billabongs and puddles reflect the sky while pathways connect campsites, which are represented through the symbolism of concentric circles. The red ochre colour, also present, represents family and their sacred, spiritual connection to place that echoes down through the ages and Indigenous generations.
About the artist
A proud Wiradjuri man, Duncan Smith OAM is a well-known artist and cultural performer throughout Canberra and beyond the district. Both in his artwork and performances Duncan draws on his cultural roots and knowledge. Duncan has won many awards for his life’s work, promoting indigenous pride and growing understanding of culture across the community.