Clem Abbott created idealised scenes of very steadfast rocky cliffs standing on glowing country and backed by often animate blue ranges in the distance. The paintings appear mainly to be based on his romanticised memories of places he knew intimately. He was an important artist who gave visual expression to changing attitudes.
His passionate memory paintings became more luminous in the 1960s. From the mid-1970s, more extravagantly imaginative compositions suggest emotional release or some ambivalence about life of which he and the country were inseparable. This was the dynamic era of the land rights movement and changing cultural relations.
Clem Abbott was related by marriage to artist and land rights leader Wenten Rubuntja, who was mainly based in Alice Springs. Clem’s mother was Katie Uburtja and Wenten was married to Cynthia Uburtja. Clem was thus familiar with people involved in the land rights movement, which was the major issue in Alice Springs in the mid-1970s.
Clem apparently did not include Palm Valley or areas west of Glen Helen as the subjects of his paintings.
Clem Abbott was born 30.7.1939 at Hermannsburg and died on 19.10.1989 at Alice Springs. He was the son of Arthur and Katie (nee Uburtja) Abbott. Western Arrernte, Subsection (Skin) Mpertyane. Mervyn Rubuntja said Clem lived at both Hermannsburg and ‘on the river’ at Alice Springs.
Clem was a first cousin of artist Douglas Abbott as their fathers were brothers; Mervyn Mon (11.5.15 at Ngurratjuta Alice Springs) Douglas Abbott (born 4.10.1948 at Hermannsburg, died May 2015 at Alice Springs) was the son of Gordon and Joyleen (nee Breaden) Abbott.
*The author has not found Douglas on any list or roll apart from Heritage. The author does not know whether Clem and Douglas had much to do with each other, but the two artists pursued a close interest in fine pen and brush drawing over effective washes.
Clem was a fine painter who was most active in the 1960s and 1970s. He appears to have had a career as a fine artist, although his output was not prolific. He is not well represented in public collections although there are four in the Flinders University Art Museum collection. Clem started to paint seriously by about 1958, aged about 19 years. Dates of creation of his paintings are as estimated by the author.
In the 1960s his work became increasingly luminous when he added soft pinks and mauves to orange reds. From 1965 the artist seemed more expressive of his traditional roots, involving traditional dot and line infill as an important and often very decorative part of compositions.
The pinks and blue/greens developed in the 1970s. Towards the end of the 1970s his paintings developed an increasingly imaginative and lyrical approach (later developed also by Wenten and attempted by Joshua). Clem was more mature in his handling of ultramarine than most painters. He used luminous broad under-washes especially in foreground plains.
After 1975 the intimate part of the country was more fantasised. In contrast, the plains in the world beyond the detailed areas were represented by larger areas of traditional infill perhaps inspired by Papunya dot art. The distant hills remained important and continued to be represented pictorially.
An (undated and unsourced news-cutting or magazine cutting) label on the back of one painting bears a sketch portrait of the artist and his statement:
Hermannsburg is our country and I was born there. In the old Hermannsburg school we used to paint, just with coloured pencils, and that way we learnt a little bit. I used to see old Namatjira and his sons painting, and watching them I got ideas and learnt more. I used to watch Basil Rantji painting too, and eventually I learnt to do it myself. I’m still painting today. I have travelled around Australia and overseas, and painted there. I left a painting in some places for them to remember me by. Today I’m still painting and our paintings are on post-cards and in art galleries in Alice Springs and Darwin. I remember the country when I do the painting. I paint places like Ormiston Gorge, Mt Sonder, Glen Helen Gorge, and the mountains near Hermannsburg. I also paint Heavitree Gap here and Simpsons Gap and Mt Gillen. I want to keep painting. When you do good paintings you get reasonable money. I’ve got no other job, though I did learn a bit of saddle and bridle making from my father.
Clem Abbott was the older brother of artist Marie Abbott (born 1953). Marie Abbott (also known as Marie Hayes or Marie Ramjohn) was born at Hermannsburg.