Important Australian + International Fine Art
1 December 2022


(1948 - 1996)

synthetic polymer paint on canvas

122.0 x 91.5 cm

signed lower left: Lin Onus 
inscribed with title on stretcher bar verso: ’GOONYA GA GIRRARNG’
bears inscription on label verso: LIN ONUS / FISH & LEAVES, 1995 
bears inscription on label verso: 1

$180,000 – $250,000
Sold for $319,091 (inc. BP) in Auction 72 - 1 December 2022, Melbourne

Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne (label attached to stretcher bar verso)
S&P Global, Melbourne


Possibly: Bama-Mutjing (Barmah – My Father’s Country), Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne, 12 September – 8 October 1995, cat. 1

Catalogue text

Goonya Ga Girrarng (Fish and Leaves), 1995 belongs to a sublime body of paintings by Lin Onus featuring transparent watery landscapes that are exceptional in their lyrical beauty. Executed in a peerless photorealist style combining technical virtuosity with indigenous concepts of space and knowledge, they comprise carefully planned layers of imagery – elements of which are sometimes, at least initially, obscured by the reflected sky or landscape. These paintings are poetic and potent statements of Indigenous cultural authority, landscapes of the natural world combined with subtle traditional iconography that confirmed Onus’ relationship to both his adopted homeland in Arnhem Land and to his own ancestral sites at the Barmah-forest on the Murray River.
It was as the Victorian representative of the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council in 1986 that Onus had the opportunity to visit Maningrida in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, and to meet traditional elders such as Jack Wunuwun who became his adoptive father and mentor. He was given stories and designs that expanded his visual repertoire and enabled him to develop a distinctive visual language from a combination of traditional and contemporary Aboriginal imagery and photorealist landscapes.
Blending traditional imagery with photorealism, Onus depicted not only the physical attributes of place, but also its spiritual dimensions, allowing him to address political issues while simultaneously generating contemplative experiences connected with creation, continuity and the eternal. Projecting a dream-like ‘otherworldliness’, the composition features tall spindly gum trees reflected on the waterhole’s surface with the artist’s signature motif of ‘indigenised’ fish decorated in rarrk, swimming between exquisitely rendered layers of fallen russet-coloured leaves both floating on the surface and settled on the billabong floor.
Onus’ images are often loaded with cultural history and metaphor. In Goonya Ga Girrarng (Fish and Leaves), this undercurrent is sensed in the rarrk painting on the swimming fish, yet these waterscapes also speak of an everlasting landscape. Reflected in the mirrored surface of the waterways is not only the enduring beauty, but also the fragility of the land and our relationship to it.