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Ochres essay
Choreographed by Stephen Page and Bernadette Walong for Bangarra Dance Theatre, Ochres is a work in four parts. It premiered in Sydney in 1995 and then toured extensively. It explores the mystical significance of ochre, and is inspired by its spiritual and medicinal power. After a prologue the work's four parts are: Yellow, Black, Red and White.

Yellow: I believe the landscape to be Mother. Its flowing rivers she cleanses in, the yellow ochre she dresses in, the sun and seasons she nourishes gathering, nesting and birthing along her travels. Black: An ash storm has blown over, the call and pain of initiation can only be viewed from a distance ... Men's Business. Red: Custom, Law and Values placed on the relationships between women and men who have been on a path of change since time began. In each of these relationships: the youth, the obsession, the poison, the pain, there is struggle. White: At dawn Mother Earth yawns, her call engulfs the white ochre spirits to spiritually bathe them in preparation for the day's journey. Dancers who performed in early productions of Ochres include Albert David, Gary Lang, Marilyn Miller, Djakapurra Munyarryun, Russell Page, Kirk Page, Jan Pinkerton, Frances Rings, Gina Rings and Bernadette Walong. Music was composed by David Page, lighting was by Jo Mercurio, and costume design was by Jennifer Irwin. http://www.australiadancing.org/subjects/2441.html

Aboriginal people throughout Australia have always used ochre for ceremonial body painting, traditional rituals & as a paint for artefacts & message diagrams associated with their nomadic lifestyle.

The first Australian Aboriginal art collected by European people was in the form of ochre on eucalyptus bark, long before the use of canvas & linen & acrylic paints. The artists of the Kimberley region of Western Australia have carried on the tradition, using natural ochres/earth pigments for artworks now represented in modern homes & institutions worldwide.

The collection & preparation of the raw ochre is incredibly time consuming, & the blending of a myriad of colours for the depiction of the landscape artworks indicative of the Kimberley area requires knowledge & dedication. Natural Ochre pigment is found in many different colours throughout the world; however, the basic colours in the Kimberley region are red, black, yellow, brown & white. The artists are able to blend these pigments to make all the other colours required for the artwork. Some ochre is heated up, with the varying temperatures resulting in the depth of colour achieved.

Once ground & prepared, the ochre is mixed with a binder & the artist is ready to commence painting. In the early days, commercial binders were not available, & the original ochre painters used many natural binders such as garliwun (tree resin), bush honey, egg yolks & kangaroo blood.

The thickness of the palette of the ochre used is dependent upon the desired result of the artwork. Some artists favour thick palette ochre showing a great deal of “grain”, others a finely powdered ochre to achieve a translucent effect. The original ochre Masters would prepare the canvas with ochre, leave to dry & then rub back with a flat stone to achieve extremely minimal ochre imaging. The ochre, being a natural pigment, is not affected by direct light, is extremely durable in all temperatures & climates.

The acquisition of a work executed in ochre medium ensures the purchaser of a Traditional, enduring & very special part of Aboriginal Culture.

The History of Ochre

The history of the use of ochre is fascinating. Ochre was one of the first pigments to be used by human beings. Pieces of haematite (a compact form of iron oxide), worn down as though they had been used as crayons, have been found at 300,000 year old sites in France & Czechoslovakia. Ochre natural earth pigments are evidenced all over the world. The oldest...
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