Important Australian + International Fine Art
28 August 2019


born 1971

pencil and pastel on paper

100.0 x 120.0 cm

$25,000 – 35,000
Sold for $34,160 (inc. BP) in Auction 58 - 28 August 2019, Sydney

Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane
pARTners Art Collective, Melbourne, acquired from the above in September 2014

Catalogue text

Bayi Dambun is the name of a legendary spirit of the rainforest, an unseen presence and energy who features in ancient dreaming stories and cosmologies of the indigenous peoples of North Queensland, including the Mamu, Ngagen and Jirrbal clans of Danie Mellor’s maternal ancestors.1 This immersive tableau of dense rainforest displays, with some ambiguity, the connection that Australian indigenous people have had to the land since time immemorial. Creating a bridge between the artist’s earlier vignettes and his current large-scale photographic installations, Bayi Dambun (Glades of Dusk and Shade), 2014 is entirely hand drawn, the highly detailed level of sophistication created through layered observations and colonial photographic records; spiritual depth married to spatial depth.

For all the technical skill with which the rainforest undergrowth is translated, the artifice of Mellor’s hand is still apparent. By applying a melancholic blue hue to his views, the artist enforces a removal from the landscape. The viewer adopts an outside perspective, altering the true appearance of the ancient natural landscape. It becomes a transformed environment. Inspired by the exotic scenes depicted on blue and white Spode china contemporaneous to the European arrival on Australian shores, Mellor has adopted this strategy as a means of evoking a sense of ’otherworldliness’, a lens of romantic exoticism. Untouched by this doctored view are diminutive indigenous figures and native animals, appearing throughout Mellor’s scenes as curiously dislocated and transposed from their environment. Mellor addresses thus, with enticing beauty, the continuing presence of aboriginal people and their sovereignty over this land.

Bayi Dambun (Glades of Dusk and Shade), closely related to a portion of the enormous, nine-panel Bayi Dambun Bala Mila in the collection of the TarraWarra Museum of Art, is a seductive and immersive image exploring a subtle post-colonial presentation of the natural landscape. Cool and damp, the stillness of this image reflects a deeper cycle of life, death and regeneration. This is the foil of the rainforest, it is beautiful and deadly in equal measure. Dwarfed by the strangler vines and sprawling buttress roots of a fig tree, a man sits cross-legged on a platform with his back to the viewer. Surrounded by woven bicornal baskets, jarwun, this man is performing sacred funerary rites. As intruders to this scene, both metaphorically and physically, we silently bear witness to this ritual, only grasping the beguiling aesthetic mystery of its surface.

1. Danie Mellor Exotic Lies Sacred Ties, exhibition catalogue, University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane, 2014, p. 17