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This Aboriginal Artist Is Challenging Perceptions Of Indigenous Art

Finalist in Archibald Prize says there's more to Aboriginal art than dots.

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"It's definitely one of those faces that tell a million stories and you can see every kilometre that he's walked in his life." - Blak Douglas, artist.

A portrait by Aboriginal artist Blak Douglas, aka Adam Hills, shortlisted in this years Archibald prize is trying to flip the notion of what is Aboriginal art on its head.

Douglas's portrait of Aboriginal elder Max Eulo is a large scale artwork made up entirely of different sized circles and dots. Combined, they reveal a striking and intricate painting of Eulo's face.

"It was such an intimate affair when I painted him. When you meet uncle Max and you look at his face it's definitely one of those faces that tell a million stories and you can see every kilometre that he's walked in his life," Douglas says.

"It's such a charismatic and arid face and you immediately know that you are talking to someone that has been a lot of places and that's what I tried to convey with the multitude of dots, and the whole thing is dotted with various apparatus."

Entitled Smoke and Mirrors (Uncle Max Eulo), Douglas says that while the artwork is a tribute to Eulo it is also a commentary on the commercialisation of dot paintings and in particular the misappropriation of them by artists from areas where dots are not traditionally used.

"I try and take the dot to the nth degree and just make it so basic in its application and just try and pull the viewer away from that comfort of whitefellas looking at dot paintings and immediately identifying that as Aboriginal art," he tells BuzzFeed News.

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Hill's provocative, politically motivated works are identifiable by there bright colours and stark imagery portraying Indigenous injustice, disadvantage and the violence of colonisation, and have won acclaim from critics.

Hill says the creation of alter-ego Blak Douglas is a way of escaping his politically motivated art and says that his new style of painting as Douglas, which includes the Eulo portrait, has been liberating.

"People are captivated by it. It's almost like you walk into uncle Max’s face and you walk those steps with him. This is by far the most satisfying artwork I’ve ever done."

Uncle Max Eulo (Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images)

Douglas says he was intrigued by the spirituality of the Budjedi elder.

“He’s an ambiguous spirit figure, kind of like floats around doing his thing."

Eulo is known for his traditional Aboriginal smoking and welcome to country ceremonies, which he has preformed from everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to the Pope.

"I try to operate outside the boundaries of things. And the boundaries surrounding the Archibald is that you're meant to be noticed in sports, science, arts or politics, and uncle Max is none of those. In Sydney he is doing his beautiful things and he’s such a loved character and I thought wow, he’s a hidden gem amidst the egos."

"Me" by Richard Bell.

Douglas was one of 47 finalists in this years Archibald prize and one of two Aboriginal artists shortlisted this year alongside Richard Bell.

Nigel Milsom took out the $100,000 prize last week for his painting called "Judo house part 6 (the white bird)" of barrister Charles Waterstreet.

All of the finalists works are on display at the Art Gallery of NSW until September 27.

See the making of Smoke and mirrors (Uncle Max Eulo).

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