My name is Richard Bell. I am an Aboriginal man living and working in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. I make a living from painting pictures. Because I am from the closely settled east coast of Australia I am not allowed to paint what is popularly called ‘Aboriginal art’. Nor can I use the symbols and styles of Aboriginal people from the remote, sparsely settled areas of northern Australia. Apparently, this would make my work derivative and hence diminished in importance, relevance and quality. However, in western art, which appears to be almost entirely and increasingly derivative, no such restrictions apply. Quoting, citing, sampling or appropriating pre-existing works even has its own movement: appropriationism. There is even a belief that ‘everything has been done before’. (Which makes it cool to appropriate.)
Consequently, I have chosen to quote, cite and sample the works of many artists from around the world, for example, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Colin McCahon; just like most artists today. But I don’t believe that every painting has been painted, just as I don’t believe that every song has been written.
I have also been privileged to watch closely how many of the great desert artists paint and have learned plenty. In Australia there are many Aboriginal artists from urban areas who are producing art with similar subject matter to mine. Our art has been, incorrectly I believe, called ‘urban Aboriginal art’. It is work that that often speaks of contemporary injustices against our people. Liberation art is a far more accurate term that may also help to discourage the perpetual attempts to ghettoise us.