Bush medicine painting is one of the most highly recognised styles of Aboriginal art today. Although fairly new compared to other styles of Aboriginal painting, nothing seems to capture the beauty and ethereal essence of the Dreamtime quite like it. In many ways, these paintings, as well as the artists who create them, are paying homage to the naturalist and earth-bound lifestyle of the culture that inspired them. The Aboriginal peoples have always used art to express or record key aspects of their heritage, culture and oral history. Owning a bush medicine painting gives you an insight into this beautiful and colourful world. We’ll go over the history of Aboriginal leaf painting and its impact on the art world as a whole.
What are bush medicine leaves paintings?
Bush medicine leaves paintings are artworks that display countless individual leaves of the Kurrajong tree densely painted all over the canvas. Each leaf is painstakingly painted by hand and can be in a variety of colours, representing the change of the seasons and the cycle of nature. Although medicine leaves paintings of today can often feature the leaves of other trees, the leaves of the Kurrajong tree are especially significant because they were traditionally used for medicinal purposes and are known to have healing properties. The style was pioneered by Gloria Petyarre, an indigenous artist who received several prestigious art awards as a result. Her painting, simply titled 'Leaves,' drew international interest because of its stunning, complex patterns of laboriously made brush strokes. That work bridged a divide and brought Australian Aboriginal art into the realm of contemporary art for the first time. Today, many artists utilise bush medicine leaves as a motif in their paintings.
History of Aboriginal leaf paintings
When talking about Aboriginal leaf paintings, it’s impossible to completely appreciate the significance of each piece without knowing a little bit about the culture and society that birthed it. To know why bush medicine leaves paintings have become so popular, let’s look at the history of bush medicine for the Aboriginal people.
The story behind medicine leaves artwork
Painting in the bush medicinal leaves style is one of the most appealing types of art in the world. The thousands of 'leaves' are painstakingly hand-painted one by one, stacked on top of one another in exquisite swirling patterns that appear to be rippling across the canvas with thick brush strokes. Gloria Petyarre established this unique form of Aboriginal art. The clever use of colours, shapes and stroke direction can create a powerful impression of ebb and flow, as if the leaves are flowing in the wind. This made it instantly appealing to an international audience, catapulting medicine leaves artwork and aboriginal art in general, into global recognition.Gloria Petyarre would go on to receive the Wynne Prize for Best Australian Landscape Painting in 1999, making her the Art Gallery of NSW first Aboriginal artist to achieve this coveted award. Gloria had great international success with her Aboriginal leaf painting style and was widely considered one of Australia's foremost female Indigenous artists.The daughters, sisters, nieces and granddaughters of the Petyarre family would take up the art and continue producing amazing pieces to this day.
The significance of the Kurrajong Tree
The Aboriginal people have always lived in harmony with nature. Skilled hunters and gatherers went to great lengths to learn which plants were safe for consumption and which were to be left alone. One of the plants they held in high regard was the Kurrajong tree. The Kurrajong tree's fallen foliage is featured in traditional Aboriginal leaf paintings. Aside from its medicinal leaves, the tree has numerous other benefits that people of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal descent have made use of.
- The seed pods were often removed, cleaned of the fine hairs within and then roasted, serving as a highly nutritious snack.
- The roots are also known to be edible.
- Water may be extracted from huge trees by drilling a hole in the trunk and squeezing the wood.
- The soft, spongy wood was utilised to make shields, with the bark functioning as a fibre to hold and tie items together.
- Kurrajong seed pods have also been utilised in children's rattles and other toys, while European settlers have roasted and crushed seeds to use as a coffee substitute.
How bush medicine leaves were used by indigenous peoples
Being experts at the management of resources, the Aboriginal peoples have a plethora of natural remedies to cure a variety of ailments. Central to these remedies was the use of bush medicine leaves.Typically, the women harvest bush leaves, boil them and blend them with animal fat that might have been procured from hunting kangaroos, goannas or emus. They combine the components to form a therapeutic paste or poultice that can be used for several months. The paste can treat a wide range of skin conditions, including insect and animal bites, wounds and scrapes, rashes and infections. The bush leaves are also thought to release their medicinal properties when boiled in boiling water. The tea would then be served to those with ailments to bring down the fever. Other preparations were employed to repel bugs and insects or to shock fish, making them much easier to catch.
Medicine leaves painting today
Thanks to a renewed appreciation of Aboriginal art, medicine leaves artwork has become a style known all around the world. When combined with the rich meaning behind the style, a bush medicine painting becomes the perfect addition to any home looking to infuse the beauty of nature and the richness of aboriginal culture into its interiors. It is also a common type of artwork seen in many medicinal or wellness clinics around the world. Doctors and medical professionals from Australia, Europe and the United States seek out medicine leaves paintings for their connection to health and well-being, making their chosen item appropriate for waiting rooms and consultation areas. They also lend a sense of calm and hopeful continuity the way few other styles of art can.Whether you’re a lover of Aboriginal culture or a homeowner looking to incorporate a beautiful piece of art into your space, bush medicine paintings are always a great option to consider.
Witness the essence of Dreamtime with a bush medicine painting
With its swirling density of leaves in contrasting colours, it’s easy to see why many compare painting like these to what the Dreamtime might be like. In owning a bush medicine painting, you will be able to witness the essence of Dreamtime. At the very least, you will understand how important plants are to Aboriginal people and learn how much they depend on them for more than just their medicinal needs. Bush medicine leaves paintings are a great way to connect with nature and learn about a different culture.If you’re looking for a fine selection of Aboriginal leaf paintings by some of the most talented artists today, then Wentworth Galleries is the place to find it.
Get yourself a bush medicine painting from Wentworth Galleries
We are honoured to showcase this important aspect of Aboriginal culture and provide a platform for Aboriginal artists to share their experiences with the rest of the world. In our collection, you'll find pieces that preserve the heritage of Aboriginal art while still reflecting the personal voice and perspectives of the artist that created it. We aim to display the best examples of Australia's top artists' work, regardless of genre. Whether you're looking for rental artwork to enjoy for a special event or a chance to purchase a one-of-a-kind piece of Australian art, our extensive selection makes it simple to choose the perfect piece for your collection.
Own a bush medicine leaves painting today!
Wentworth Galleries showcases a carefully curated array of Aboriginal leaf paintings for you to admire and purchase. When you order with us, you'll get top-quality art from outstanding artists, free home or office trials and a two-year exchange guarantee. Learn more about the most recent art news and please contact us if you have any questions. We are always glad to help you find the medicinal leaves artwork that makes the most impact for you.