The majority of Storylines’ artists (338 out of 593) worked only in one medium, and almost all of these were painters. Others who worked in a single medium tended to work in ‘traditional’ Indigenous media such as carving, weaving and shell necklace making usually passed on by family members. Generally speaking, the more successful the artist, the more likely they were to have worked in a number of media. Also, the older the artist, the more likely they were to focus on a single medium, although there is an emerging tendency for younger art school trained Indigenous artists to develop their skills in a particular non-painting medium: for example glass blower Yhonnie Scarce; sculptural ceramicist Robyne Latham and Duncan Robinson, who manipulates video, television and mobile phone imagery in his work.
The vast majority of the artists in the sample appear to be orthodox rather than innovative in their use of artistic media. Where they deviate from painting, drawing, ceramics and print making, it is generally not in the direction of experimentation with new media, but in exploring and maintaining what might be described as ‘traditional’ Aboriginal media such as wood and emu carving, weaving, and shell work. This said, one of the most interesting groups of work uncovered in this research involved innovative uses of traditional media: Vicki West’s work with bull kelp immediately springs to mind here, but there were many others working in innovative ways with ‘traditional’ media including seaweed, possum skin cloaks, shells, bark, pyrography and ‘sculptures’ composed of traditional weaponry. Muriel Maynard’s bringing together of Tasmanian Aboriginal weaving and shell-working traditions is another case in point.
The shift in recent times in the perception of ceramics, textile and fibre art, jewellery and weaving which tend to be dominated by women, from being perceived as “craft” to being acknowledged as – at least potentially – “art” media may account for the preponderance of women in this survey. Women accounted for almost all of the weavers, Steve Russell, Shaun Kalk Edwards, and Glen Mackie being the three exceptional male weavers. On the other hand, male-dominated areas like wood carving have undergone a similar transition. The generic description ‘weaving’ does not do justice to the diversity of materials used by Indigenous weavers, including a mix of synthetic materials, or to the strong engagements with country that the collecting of materials makes possible, or the very local inflections given to standard weaving styles by the ingenious use of materials endemic to the painter’s locale. Nor does the generic title of ‘weaving’ convey the amazing variety of woven forms produced by Indigenous artists across the country, including Storylines artists: everything from conventional baskets, elaborately patterned mats, traditional functional objects such as eel traps, baby carriers and bush safes to expressive, sculptural weaves of people, animals, furniture and biplanes. Besides the practice of Nichols, Connelly, Maynard and Koolmatrie, the work of weavers such as Elaine Terrick, Edith Terrick, Ellen Trevorrow and ‘bush sculptor’ Janine McAullay Bott exemplify this diversity.