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Australia's great crossover indigenous artist comes to London for a one-man show at Messum's
Fish at Malwan, 1996. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 182 x 182 cm. $280,000.

LONDON.- He has been dubbed possibly the most important indigenous artist in south east Australia, he was an active campaigner on Aboriginal issues and he represents the point at which indigenous Australian art meets the Western tradition.

Now the works of Lin Onus (1948-96) are coming to London for the first in a series of exhibitions in the UK and Australia as his star rises among non-Australian collectors.

From June 27 to July 3, Messum’s of Cork Street is displaying 15 works ranging in price from $35,000 to $380,000 in a show titled Yinya Wala (Light/Water), with Frances Lindsay AM, one of Australia’s leading art museum professionals, championing Onus’s talent in the process.

She notes how Onus “bridged both Australian Indigenous and the Western visual systems”, a reflection of his mixed parentage, with an indigenous father and part Scottish mother.

“Lin Onus reminds us of the beauty, but also the fragility of the land and our relationship to it, as well as our relationship with each other, and in so doing his art resonates beyond Australia to the international arena.”

He was also inspired by Japanese tradition, having undertaken a residency in Yokohama in 1989, intrigued by the anomaly between the refined aesthetic sense of Japanese style that extended to carefully conceived and manicured gardens, and the highly industrialised nature of the large cities.

“‘I was fascinated with the paradoxes in Japanese society…these paradoxes were interesting particularly in relation to their environment which was full of smog, chromium and glass and yet people were really into gardens… A garden isn’t complete without a pond and much less complete without fish,” he later wrote.

This led to the centrepiece of the current exhibition, the 1994 work The Riddle of the Koi, a vast and stunning diptych measuring 2.2 x 4.4 metres.

A multi-award winner for his art, he was also a major figure in Aboriginal rights, chairing the Aboriginal Arts Board from 1989 to 1992, and was a co-founder of the Aboriginal Arts Management Association in 1990. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1993 in recognition of his service to Aboriginal welfare and to the arts.
Onus’s work is included in the Holmes Court Collection, an internationally acclaimed collection of art.

Urban Dingo: the Art and Life of Lin Onus 1948-1996 opened in 2000 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney to coincide with the Olympic Games being held in that city, before touring to Brisbane and Melbourne.

It capped a quarter of a century of solo and shared exhibitions that raised his standing and reputation.

Now Mossgreen Gallery of Melbourne and Sydney, Jan Manton Gallery of Brisbane and Messum’s of London have come together to raise that awareness even more.

To that end, Johnny Messum will lead a gallery tour of Mayfair with jewellers Boodles as part of Brown’s London Art Weekend (BLAW), an event that attracts thousands of visitors each year to the 116 galleries around Mayfair for free art talks and tours. In 2016 that coincides exactly with the show, which will allow him to introduce British art lovers to Lin Onus’s work in person.

“When you see how Lin merged the indigenous Australian approach and themes with the Western tradition with his exceptionally accomplished technique, it is astonishing,” says Johnny. “His treatment of water in particular shows how talented he was at getting under the surface of things, while capturing the luminous quality of the light on the Australian landscape.

“This work clearly has wider appeal, something we at Messum’s are keen to display during Brown’s London Art Weekend.”

The exhibition is the latest initiative in an ongoing partnership between Messum’s and Mossgreen, that started in 2012, to bring the best of British art to Australian audiences and vice versa.

After Messum’s, the exhibition moves to Melbourne from August 4-28, followed by Brisbane (September 4-29) and Sydney (October 8-30).

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