‘Noble Savage 3’ is so much more than a reiteration of the ‘picturesque’ landscape tradition that Pease critiques. His witty exposé packs an ironic punch. With gentle censure, he reappraises nineteenth-century European depictions of Aboriginal people, both quoting and subverting such representations. Pease calls us to look beyond the aesthetics of his art, and challenges us to consider its broader inferences.
— UQ Art Museum Curatorial Assistant Emily Poore
About the artist
Drawing from his Indigenous and European heritage, Christopher Pease combines Aboriginal iconography and Western painting traditions to explore the relationship between these two cultures. Pease was born in 1969 in Western Australia. He is a descendant of the Mineng people who live in the southern tip of the state, and he also has French heritage.
In 1995, he began working as a graphic designer for The Aboriginal Independent Newspaper and, in 1998, he completed a graduate diploma in Art and Design at Perth Technical College. After graduating, he accepted teaching roles at Curtin University (2002–2003) and Perth TAFE (2003–2005 and 2009–). In 2002, Pease won the 19th Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander General Painting Award for Wadatji country – belief and disbelief 2002. Pease has exhibited frequently since 2000. Solo shows include New works: Christopher Pease, Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney (2013), Welcome to Country, Gallerysmith, Melbourne (2012) and Christopher Pease – New paintings, Goddard de Fiddes Gallery, Perth (2008).
Pease’s work is held by National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Holmes à Court Collection, Kerry Stokes Collection, various corporate and tertiary collections around Australia, Artbank and Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art Ultrect, Netherlands.
Primarily as a painter, Christopher Pease explores the way that images and concepts of Indigenous people have been constructed by Europeans. By representing his Indigenous identity through modes traditionally associated with European art, he subverts the power hierarchies that exist between the painter and the painted, colonialist and indigene.1
About the work acquired
In Noble Savage, Pease focuses on the stereotypical notion that considered non-Europeans to be primitive people who were uncorrupted by modern civilisation and therefore emblematic of humanity’s innate goodness. The idea was a common theme in European literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and was used in connection with Aboriginal people as Europeans colonised Australia. Through this construct, Indigenous Australians were labelled as exotic curiosities on a par with livestock and denied status as fellow human beings with complex traditions. Pease builds on these concepts, painting himself astride a handsome bull in a picturesque scene that references eighteenth-century landscape paintings and paintings of prize animals by artists such as George Stubbs (1724–1806).2
Mounted on his bovine steed, Pease surveys his Country like a member of the British aristocracy. He proudly wears ceremonial body paint that indicates his status as a male initiate and identifies him as a participant in complex rituals governed by intricate social structures. In tandem with the title, the image creates an ironic visual pun that dismantles and reassembles the concept of the noble savage. In this context, the bull and the rabbits make links to destruction caused by introduced animals, further symbolising the negative impact colonial systems had on Indigenous culture. A network of contradictory perspectives, each critiquing the subjugation of Aboriginal people by Europeans, pervades Pease’s sensitively conceived canvas.
Noble Savage 3 is the first artwork by Christopher Pease to be acquired by The University of Queensland.
1. “Christopher Pease,” Michael Reid, http://www.michaelreid.com.au/artists-view?aid=86.
2. “Christopher Pease,” Michael Reid: Berlin, http://www.inspireomedia.net/preview/mrd/berlin/artwork/christopher-pease-3/.
Adapted from text by Emily Poore, Curatorial Assistant, July 2014.