Brian Robinson, Ulmai
Image size: 250mm x 835mm
Artist: Brian Robinson
Region: Waiben (Thursday Island), Torres Strait
Language: Kala Lagaw Ya
Artwork story: Round here we don’t look backward for too long, we keep moving forward with positive change because of excitement, intrigue and curiosity…anticipation in the wake of change through the building of positive and optimistic views and plans for the future for all Indigenous people.
Ulmai is a word from Kala Lagaw Ya, the traditional language of the Western Torres Strait Islander people. Translated into English, this word means ‘to go walkabout’, a common statement that refers to a short period of wandering bush life engaged in by Indigenous Australian males…a rite of passage during which they would trace the songlines that their people's ceremonial ancestors took, and imitate, in a fashion, their heroic deeds. Ulmai is comprised of a group of coloured feet all huddled together with one pair beginning to walk away from the main group. This pair is adorned with geometric motifs, directly referring to cultural change of the mind, body and spirit. Regardless of the size, shape and colour of the pairs of feet, all are linked with a serpent tattoo motif, a spiritual connection to each other, past ancestors and the Dreaming.
Catalogue ID: BRRO039
Artist bio: Brian Robinson is a multi-skilled contemporary artist, whose practice includes painting, printmaking, sculpture and design. The graphic style in his practice combines his Torres Strait Islander heritage with a strong passion for experimentation, both in theoretical approach and medium, as well as a crossing of the boundaries between reality and fantasy. The results combine styles as diverse as graffiti art through to intricate relief carvings and construction sculpture echoing images of Torres Strait cultural motifs, objects and activity. Robinson’s art reflects the tropical marine environment surrounding Waiben (Thursday Island) and the inhabitants of that environment. It is an essential part of his life and culture, imbued with the customs, traditions and lifestyles of Torres Strait Island people. The animals from ancestral stories and their presence today are an integral feature of Robinson’s work.
Robinson’s sculptural practice stems from the discipline of constructivism, a style of sculpture that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s based on carefully structured modules that allow for intricate, and in some cases infinite, patterns of repetition, sometimes used to create limitless, basically planar, screen-like formations, and sometimes employed to make more multi-dimensional structures. Surface treatments for Robinson’s sculptural works have included coconut-leaf matting, split bamboo, cowrie shells, feathers, lace, photographic prints and linocuts on paper.
His approach to printmaking in both etching and linocut is linear in composition and appearance. These prints illustrate Robinson’s depth of connection to heritage paired with his aesthetic and intellectual exploration of Western art iconography in relation and connection to Torres Strait culture.
Robinson's work has contributed significantly to the environs of Cairns, his home for two decades, through a number of major public art installations including the signature five stainless steel woven fish sculptures and fountain installed on the Cairns Esplanade in 2003. His work has been widely collected both privately and through major institutions both in Australia and overseas. From September 2010 Robinson undertook a 12-month Artist in Residence at Djumbunji Press KickArts Fine Art Printmaking Studio located in Cairns, developing an impressive body of new works in etching and linocut.