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Understanding Colour in Aboriginal Art

Posted by Jilan Shah on
colours of aboriginal art

Colour has always been an essential aspect of human expression, transcending cultural boundaries and connecting people through shared experiences and emotions. In the world of Aboriginal art, colour serves as a powerful medium to convey stories, beliefs, and the deep-rooted connection to the land. 

At Creative Native Aboriginal art gallery, we invite you to take an in-depth journey into the captivating and multifaceted realm of colour in indigenous art. Get in touch today and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have about the use of colour in Aboriginal art, or simply browse our art collection here. 

The cultural significance of colour in aboriginal art 

For the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, their artistic heritage stretches back more than 60,000 years. Colour has been a vital component in expressing their cultural identity, spiritual beliefs, and connection to their ancestors and the land. The choice of colours and their combinations in Aboriginal art reflect complex layers of meaning and symbolism, providing a visual language that speaks to the viewer on multiple levels. 

The traditional colour palette in Aboriginal art and what they symbolise 

The colours used in traditional Aboriginal art are predominantly derived from natural pigments found in the environment. Imbued with deep cultural significance and conveying various layers of meaning, artists deliberately select and combine colours to tell stories and express their beliefs, emotions, and experiences. Here, we explore the symbolic associations of common colours in Aboriginal art in greater detail: 


Sourced from charcoal or manganese oxide, black holds a powerful position in Aboriginal art as a symbol of the night sky, mystery, and ancestral spirits. It represents the void from which all life emerges and the darkness that precedes the dawn, signifying the cyclical nature of life and the concept of rebirth and renewal. 

In many Aboriginal artworks, black is used to represent the immeasurable depth of knowledge and wisdom held by ancestral spirits. It also serves as a reminder of the ever-present guidance and protection offered by these spirits to those who respect and acknowledge their existence. 


Red, predominantly sourced from ochre, holds a unique position in Aboriginal art due to its many symbolic associations. It represents blood, which symbolises the ties between family members and the bonds within a community. This colour signifies the interconnectedness of all living beings and the responsibility that people have towards each other. 

Moreover, red embodies the land, emphasising the deep connection that Aboriginal people have with their environment. It showcases their attachment to the land as a source of sustenance, cultural identity, and spiritual belonging. Red also symbolises vitality, signifying the life force that flows through all living beings and the natural world. 


Yellow, another ochre-derived colour, has strong connections with the sun in Aboriginal art. It represents warmth, light, and life, highlighting the essential role of the sun in sustaining life on Earth. Yellow is also associated with spiritual energy, signifying the life-giving power of the sun as a source of growth and renewal. 

The use of yellow in Aboriginal art is often connected to important natural elements and celestial bodies, such as the sun, stars, and moon. This colour serves as a reminder of the intricate balance between the natural world and spiritual realms, emphasising the interdependence of all life forms. 


White, derived from sources such as gypsum, kaolin, or crushed shells, is a colour that embodies purity, sacredness, and spiritual connection in Aboriginal art. It is often used to represent the presence of ancestral spirits or the essence of sacred ceremonies and rituals. 

In many Aboriginal artworks, white is utilised to depict the paths of spiritual beings as they traverse the landscape, leaving behind a trail of wisdom and knowledge for future generations. The use of white in art signifies reverence for the ancestors, their teachings, and the importance of maintaining a strong spiritual connection with the past. 

Patterns and colour combinations 

The elaborate patterns and designs in Aboriginal art serve as more than just visual elements; they are an encoded language that conveys stories, history, cultural knowledge, and spiritual beliefs. These patterns, often combined with specific colours, contribute additional depth and complexity to the narratives portrayed in the artwork. 

Concentric circles 

Concentric circles are a common motif in Aboriginal art and can represent a variety of elements, such as sacred sites, waterholes, campfires, or meeting places. The colour of the circles often provides further context to the subject matter. For example, red ochre circles might symbolise the life-giving power of a waterhole or the spiritual energy of a sacred site, while black circles could indicate the depth of ancestral knowledge or the mystery surrounding a particular location. 

Dot patterns 

Dot patterns are another distinctive feature of Aboriginal art. These patterns, created using sticks, fingers, or other tools, can signify different elements depending on the colours used and the context within the artwork. White dots might represent the presence of ancestral spirits or stars in the night sky, while yellow dots could symbolise the warmth and light of the sun. When combined with other patterns and colours, dot patterns can create intricate visual narratives that convey the artist's intended message. 

Line patterns 

Line patterns, often used to depict the paths of ancestral spirits or the routes taken by Aboriginal people during their travels, are another essential component of Aboriginal art. These patterns can vary in thickness and length, with the colour of the lines providing additional meaning. For instance, red lines might signify the bloodlines connecting family members or the spiritual connection to the land, while black lines could represent the journeys taken by ancestral spirits through the night sky. 

Animal and plant motifs 

Aboriginal art frequently features depictions of animals, plants, and other natural elements, reflecting the deep connection that Aboriginal people have with their environment. These motifs, combined with specific colours, can symbolise various aspects of the natural world and its relationship to the spiritual realm. For example, a black kangaroo might represent the guidance and protection offered by ancestral spirits, while a yellow snake could symbolise the sun's life-giving power. 

Abstract patterns and designs 

Some Aboriginal artists employ abstract patterns and designs to communicate their stories and beliefs, using colour combinations to create a sense of movement, energy, and emotion within the artwork. These abstract patterns can symbolise elements of the natural world, spiritual concepts, or cultural knowledge. For example, a painting featuring swirling red and yellow patterns might represent the interplay between the sun's energy and the life-giving power of the earth. 

Contemporary Aboriginal art and the evolution of colour 

Contemporary Aboriginal artists have embraced new mediums and colour palettes, reflecting the ongoing evolution of their culture and artistic expression. Acrylic paint, which allows for a broader range of hues and tones, has become a popular choice for many artists. This has led to new possibilities for experimentation and creative expression, resulting in captivating works that meld traditional symbolism with modern artistic techniques. 

Some contemporary Aboriginal artists have adopted bold and vibrant colours, creating visually striking pieces that challenge conventional ideas about Aboriginal art. These artists continue to push the boundaries of colour and form, exploring new ways to tell their stories and share their cultural heritage. By incorporating new colour palettes, they open up fresh avenues for interpretation and engagement, inviting viewers to delve deeper into the rich world of Aboriginal art. 

Influential contemporary Aboriginal artists and their use of colour 

Numerous contemporary Aboriginal artists have gained international recognition for their innovative use of colour and their powerful visual narratives. Some of these influential artists include:

  • Emily Kame Kngwarreye: Known for her bold and expressive use of colour, Emily Kame Kngwarreye was a pioneer in the Aboriginal art world. Her unique style, which often featured vivid colours and abstract patterns, drew inspiration from her deep connection to the land and her culture. 
  • Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri: As a leading figure in the contemporary Aboriginal art movement, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri's work is characterised by intricate dot paintings and vibrant colour palettes. His innovative use of colour and pattern helped to popularise Aboriginal art both within Australia and internationally. 
  • Sally Gabori: With her large-scale abstract paintings, Sally Gabori brought a fresh perspective to the world of Aboriginal art. Her dynamic use of colour and expressive brushstrokes captured the essence of her connection to her homeland, offering a powerful visual representation of her cultural identity. 
  • Rover Thomas: A prominent figure in the East Kimberley art movement, Rover Thomas is renowned for his distinctive ochre paintings that depict the landscape and ancestral stories of his country. His use of natural pigments and minimalist colour palettes evoke a deep sense of place and cultural history. 

Visiting the Creative Native Indigenous art gallery 

At Creative Native, we celebrate the rich history and cultural significance of colour in Aboriginal art. Our carefully curated collection showcases both traditional and contemporary pieces, offering visitors an opportunity to immerse themselves in the diverse world of colour in Aboriginal art. 

Through events & exhibitions, and educational programmes, we aim to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of the stories, beliefs, and emotions expressed in each artwork. We invite you to explore the captivating visuals and thought-provoking narratives of this ancient and enduring artistic tradition, as you discover the power and beauty of colour in Aboriginal art. 


Colour is an essential element in Aboriginal art, providing a visual language that communicates complex stories, beliefs, and cultural knowledge. From the traditional ochre pigments to the vibrant hues of contemporary acrylic paintings, the rich and diverse world of colour in Aboriginal art invites viewers to connect with the artists and their communities on a profound level. 

At Creative Native, we are proud to showcase the incredible work of Aboriginal artists, both past and present. Through our collection, we hope to inspire, educate, and encourage a deeper understanding of the rich cultural heritage that is expressed through the colours and patterns of Aboriginal art. Join us in celebrating this remarkable and enduring artistic tradition, and let the colours speak to your soul. 

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