Founded in 1907, Lowy is recognized as the country's leading fine art services firm.

Framing Aboriginal Art

March 4, 2021

4 minute read

                                               Bill Whiskey Tjapaltjarri; Rockholes near the Olgas, acrylic on canvas, 80 3/4 x 120 inches
Another Lowy framed piece of Aboriginal art by Uta Uta Tjangala
Uta Uta Tjangala; Untitled, acrylic on                     canvas, 72 x 30″ (detail)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s art and traditions are among the oldest and richest in human history, having existed on the continent of Australia for tens of thousands of years. The distinctive use of dots obscures the secret symbols or iconography underneath layers of information concealed within the artworks.

Actor, comedian, and ardent art collector Steve Martin has developed such a passion for Aboriginal fine art that he loaned his collection of indigenous Australian art to the groundbreaking Gagosian exhibition in 2019.

In an interview with Australia’s ABC, Martin spoke on his love of aboriginal art: “I never talk about our art collection, because it’s our private sanctuary, but I am so enthused about the Indigenous art”.

Lowy is fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Steve to frame the works from his collection. Due to their very large size, the Lowy team also assembled and installed many of the aboriginal artworks on site in his apartment.

                                       Lowy team installing a Tjapaltjarri work at the Martin residence.

Now, Steve, along with D’Lan Davidson, founder of D’Lan Contemporary based in Sydney and Melbourne, has launched the National Endowment for Indigenous Visual Arts (NEIVA), a new independent central trust fund formed to ethically channel art sale proceeds back to Australian Indigenous artists and their working communities.

Lowy’s involvement working with Steve, D’Lan, as well as other collectors was to select high-quality frames that functioned to protect the art and complement the palette and composition with the proper profiles and patinas.  We were honored that D’lan chose Lowy to be the framer for stunning Tjapaltjarri work.

A simple float frame where the top of the frame is 1/4 inch above the paint surface makes handling the art safer and prevents damage to the sides of the painting as well as the surface. The float-frame not only protects the art but also allows for the entire painted surface to tell its fragrant narrative.


A good frame will complement yet not distract from the artwork

The proper frame patina (or finish) does not compete with the art in color or texture but rather complements both. For example, choosing a neutral finish that is similar to a dominant color in the painting is usually a safe choice. The surface gloss should also be compatible with the sheen of the paint medium. Of course, if the client’s tastes are more adventurous, choosing a bolder color in the painting could provide for a more dramatic presentation and still be successful.


Art & Ethics 

Australia’s relationship with Australian Aboriginal art is unique.

Like all of life’s most extraordinary artworks, Aboriginal art in Australia is often mass-produced, copied, and sold worldwide to the uninformed. This disadvantages aboriginal artists who do not benefit from the profits and whose culture is being appropriated for capital.

This is an enormous problem when the nature of Indigenous artwork dates back to over 80,000 years. There is no written language for Australian Aboriginal People to convey their important cultural stories through the generations portrayed by symbols/icons through their artwork. Since 1935, Indigenous Australian artists began to use canvas and traditional supports to relate and depict their narrative. Dot painting correlated with their style of painting becoming popular amongst tourists and art dealers across the globe.

Australia’s fraught relationship with First Nations People is complicated. Some believe that the intricate use of dots in many artworks hid information from white men when the Aboriginal people became afraid that they would see and understand their sacred, private knowledge. The use of dots obscures the secret symbols or iconography underneath layers of information concealed within the art prints.

The Indigenous Art Code is an industry Code of Conduct established to promote ethical trading in the Indigenous art market. It promotes integrity, transparency, and accountability in dealings between Dealers and Artists. Ultimately the Code stands for giving Indigenous artists the resources they need to earn the recognition and respect they deserve as artists.

Learn how to buy art ethically.

See Aboriginal art in Australian art galleries.