Australia’s largest and most authentic fresco for more than a century has been unveiled at Essendon Fields in Melbourne – a dedication to famous Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira with a modern twist painstakingly created by local artist Eolo Paul Bottaro over 4 months.
The artwork, measuring 4m (h) x 3.5m (w), will be permanently displayed at the grand entrance foyer to the newly opened Australian Events Centre at Essendon Fields.
A fresco is a painting applied to wet plaster so that when the plaster and pigment dries it bonds to the wall. It was a popular form of painting large frescos during the Renaissance era, including Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. The technique is very difficult as each new piece of plaster needs to be applied daily for consistency and completed before it dries. The method is extremely rare in Australia, especially in large paintings (see time-lapse video below).
This fresco painting at The Australian Events Centre is called Udepata – The Gathering Place as it depicts Ellery Creek Big Hole, one of the main waterholes in the West MacDonnell Ranges in central Australia, known as Namatjira country.
The Aboriginal name for the waterhole is Udepata, and as a permanent source of water it is an important place for the Arrarnta people. Many visitors visit this iconic location to swim in its cool waters, and artist Bottaro has depicted contemporary figures immersed in an ancient, primordial landscape.
Bottaro says influences in creating this work include the paintings of Albert Namatjira (1902 - 1959), a prominent Aboriginal artist who depicted the region.
This work has been created in the method of buon fresco, a technique in which pure alkaline-resistant colour pigments, ground in water, are applied to wet plaster. It was an exacting and labour intensive technique with little room for error. This piece was specially commissioned for The Australian Events Centre.
“I knew that Essendon Fields was seeking artwork that was both Australian and very rare and that’s what I’ve achieved. In Australia, there are very few authentic frescos and one of this size has not been attempted in more than a century,’’ said Bottaro.
“This project represented a unique opportunity which was too appealing to refuse because it combined a very traditional European painting technique with something that was so Australian, given the scene is the iconic Udepata waterhole in Central Australia,’’ he said.
Bottaro was sent by Essendon Fields to the MacDonnell Ranges and the famous waterhole in November 2016 to sketch the scene and swim in its waters before he returned to Melbourne to plan the logistics of this major project. As frescos cannot be applied to any surface, a wall was specifically engineered in The State Room at The Australian Events Centre in order to cater for the fresco process.
“Once I’d visited the location it made sense to attempt to reproduce the watercolours that the Hermannsburg School of the region made famous in the 1930s and I wanted to pay tribute to that genre,’’ Bottaro said.
“The artwork at The Australian Events Centre, Essendon Fields forms a tribute to this great country. For the countless events and celebrations which will be hosted at this venue in the future, I’m so proud that this unique fresco will form an exciting backdrop to help bring people together at a special place, which is consistent with the scene it depicts,’’ he said.