Gathering Storm

Photo: Elizabeth Mann

Gathering Storm


Lin Onus

Australian Aboriginal, 1948-1996

It is dusk. Layers of reflected clouds and tall trees are turning dark blue and black. A single fish breaks the surface of the water, flashing bright markings that cover its body. Exacting details such as these convey the sense that the artist has spent hours observing this setting and has a vibrant reaction to present to the viewer. Gathering Storm is one of twelve paintings by Lin Onus of the same site at different hours of the day. Sorting out the imagery that Onus usedthe markings on the fish, the view beneath the surface of the water, the setting of a billabongleads to a discussion of the artist's blending of many sources, his unusual origins and his distinctive contribution to Australian art.
Oil on linen
35 5/8 x 47 9/16 x 3/4 in. (90.5 x 120.8 x 1.9 cm)
General Acquisition Fund and friends of Australian Aboriginal Art, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum
Provenance: Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne, Australia; Shay Kane, Seattle, Washington
Photo: Elizabeth Mann
Not currently on view

For Lin, art was a tool, a weapon and a shelter…

Michael Eather, artist and friend, 2003

What Is Viscopy?

Go Fish

Flying Fish-Dragon Plaque, 13th-14th century, Chinese, 33.1274
Model of a Dragon Fish (makatsugyo), early 19th century, Ikkan, 91.184
Waterdropper, n.d., Japanese, 92.47.175
Futon Cover, mid 19th century, Japanese, 92.47.260
Fishing and Still Life, ca. 1908, William Merritt Chase, 39.41
Clermelle: Sea God, ca. 1945-48, Hector Hyppolite, 53.163
Fish, ca. 1950, Castera Bazile, 53.168
Untitled, from L'Histoire de France, 1991, Ralph Gibson, 92.147

Artist and Ambassador

As an artist, Lin Onus invented his own visual language. In depicting scenes of the Arafura swamp and Barmah Forest, he took an unusual vantage point by painting scenes below the surface of the water, while also capturing reflections. This dual perspective sets up an engaging tension for the viewer that makes ingenious use of stenciling and painterly special effects. An appreciation of his methods for capturing a particular time of day and for depicting fish is enhanced through a comparison with the ways other artists have handled the same subjects.

As an ambassador for Aboriginal rights, Onus kept busy throughout his life. He served on boards, organized exhibitions, coordinated a cartoon workshop for Aboriginal artists and spent many years trying to set up an organization that would protect Aboriginal copyright. This work culminated in an agency, named Viscopy, that opened the year before his death.

Out of concern for Aboriginal artists whose images were all too often appropriated for commercial purposes without permission, an agency named Viscopy was founded and Lin Onus was asked to be its director in 1995. Viscopy handles requests from publishers, museums and commercial ventures to illustrate Aboriginal art in any way. Designed to protect Aboriginal artists from copyright violations, it remains an active agency with an office in New York that has approved all the requests to illustrate the images seen on websites like this one.
Morumbeeja Pitoa (Floods and moonlight), 1993, Lin Onus
Reproduced by permission, from the Collection of the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane. © 2007 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York / VI$COPY, Australia

What Time Is It?

Lenore Lake, Lower Coulee, 1946, Lionel Pries, 46.262
River Pattern, ca. 1952, Raymond Hill, 52.115
Market Scene, 1600, Paul Bril, 54.49
Landscape, 1660-1730, Huang Ding, 56.50.8
Photo: Paul Macapia
A Country Home, 1854, Frederic Edwin Church, 65.80
View on Lake, 1935, Peter M. Camfferman, 72.12
Chinese Figures in Landscape: Playing Go, early 17th century, Kano Takanobu, 92.33.1
Fishing at Evening on an Autumn River, After Wu Zhen, 1492, Shen Zhou, 97.80
View of the Uji river and they Byodo-in Temple, 1779-1843, Matsumura Keibun, 97.84
Mt. Jefferson from Grizzly Tarn, Oregon, ca. 1897, Myra Wiggins, 99.50


Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art, Seattle Art Museum, discusses Lin Onus's painting Gathering Storm


Exhibition HistoryMelbourne, Australia, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, 24 Hours at Numerili Suite.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water, Mar. 18 - May 30, 2022.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Pacific Species, Dec. 12, 2022 - ongoing.
Published ReferencesSeattle Art Museum: Bridging Cultures, London: Scala Publishers Ltd. for the Seattle Art Museum, 2007, pp. 38-39, illus. p. 39

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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