Natives on the River (after Glover) 2016
Natives on the River (after Glover)
hand-coloured lithograph on cotton rag paper
Dimensions (H x W x D)
76 x 100 cm (paper size); 85.5 x 109 cm (framed) edition of 15
City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection
© Courtesy of the artist
In his series of lithographs of ornate Victorian dinnerware on cotton rag paper, Melbourne-based artist Robert Hague cleverly samples artworks from the art historical canon to produce sharp critiques of colonialism and its legacy.
In this work, ‘Natives on the River (after Glover)’, from an edition of 15, Hague references John Glover’s ‘Natives on the Ouse River, Van Diemen’s Land’, painted in 1838. Through rich golds, low light and a tranquil ambience, Glover portrays a distinctly European vision of Arcadia in Australia. His painting shows Aboriginal people dwelling in prelapsarian innocence on country, undisturbed by process of colonisation, which had been unfolding in Australia for decades. His mythologising of the Ouse River scene flies in the face of the Braylwunyer experience of contact, characterised by violence and dispossession.
Hague serves up history on a platter for the viewer to dissect, to push around the plate and to consume. Glover’s distant and undifferentiated Aboriginal subjects are replaced by two dejected-looking white men in a bush scene unmistakeably redolent of Glover’s original. Perhaps these foregrounded men are Burke and Wills, who, more than 20 years after Glover’s painting was completed and a few thousand kilometres distant, died on the banks of the Cooper Creek for their ‘out-of-placeness’ in the Australian landscape and their disregard for Aboriginal people.
Hand-coloured behind the pair is Ron Robertson-Swann’s iconic ‘Vault’ (1980), a bright yellow, hard-shelled bivouac in this black-and-white scene and now located outside the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, on Grant Street, Southbank. Dubiously dubbed ‘the Yellow Peril’, the abstract sculpture is not itself a stranger to racialisation and marginalisation, displaced from the City Square to Batman Park in 1981, where coincidentally it served as a bivouac for the homeless.
Hague cleverly draws together these strands of lived and art history. The considered apposition of these works and their timeframes press at a persistently painful pressure point in the backstory of modern Australia.