• Woden Valley Act by Ronald Bull. Source: aasd.com.au copyright: Ronald E Bull (aasd.com.au)Source: aasd.com.au
Often compared as the south-east equivalent to Arrente artist Albert Namitjira, born on this day in 1942 (d.1979), Gunai (Kurnai) man Elliot Ronald Bull was a prolific and celebrated artist whose experiences of being removed from his family, concern for country and an appreciation of European landscape tradition juxtaposed within his artwork.
By
Emily Nicol

22 Aug 2016 - 3:55 PM  UPDATED 22 Aug 2016 - 8:27 PM

Born at Lake Tyers in 1942, Elliot Ronald Bull was one of twenty one children born to Alfred Bull and Agnes (nee Moore). Removed from his family as an infant, Bull was placed in the Tally Ho Boys training farm in Burwood, VIC as a young boy alongside several of his brothers where he was first introduced to publications on art and painting materials.

He had a natural talent that eventually evolved in to the creation of works which was both reflective of his Aboriginal identity and his interest in the landscape art that was introduced by English/Australian artists such as Arthur Streeton and John Constable. In a Sydney Morning Herald article regarding the value of Indigenous art, Debra Jopson noted that that there was a highly Europeanised element to the art from the South East and Bull was a leading example of watercolour landscapes that 'contained an Aboriginal element such as rocks or trees hiding a face or body'.

 

Whilst living in Melbourne, Bull came across the works of both Ernest Buckmaster and Hans Heysen and became a student of both artists through correspondence and in person visits. He was also a mentor in his own right to well known late urban artist Lin Onus. 

It is said that Bull had an infectious sense of humour and also a kind and reserved nature, despite facing a good amount of trauma from a young age.  Bull publicly reflected on the trauma and confusion of displacement that he experienced in his childhood on a TV programme aired on the ABC in 1970's and also in the June 1966 'To White Families Who Take Children for Holidays', published in Smoke Signals magazine.

Bull served several sentences in the Pentridge Prison and it was during one of these terms the he produced what is considered his most important work. In the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Sylvia Kleinert who has written extensively on Bull's contribution to the art world, described the mural as a "powerful work, depicting a classic tribal scene." The mural remains a part of the former penitentiary as part of Aboriginal cultural heritage. 

Bull received considerable public recognition and success in his career being a participant in both solo and group exhibitions and commanding a reasonable fee for his works, though his art was generally overlooked by State art galleries.

Kleinert states that Bull was once a more obscure artist but "he is now considered a significant figure in the regional history of Aboriginal Australia, a parallel in the south-east for Namatjira and a precursor to a later Koori art movement in Melbourne."