Review: Colour Theory

Finally got my hands on a copy of Colour Theory. It screened on NITV | SBS earlier last month, but I missed the broadcast. The series is made up of eight 25 minute episodes featuring a contemporary Indigenous artist and is narrated and hosted by Richard Bell.Cover image of Colour Theory featuring Richard Bell

The artists/episodes are –

Episode 1 Jake Nash, Set Designer
Episode 2 Yhonnie Scarce, Sculptor
Episode 3 Warwick Thornton, Filmaker
Episode 4 Nici Cumpston, Painter and Photographer
Episode 5 Reko Rennie, Painter
Episode 6 Archie Moore, Sculptor
Episode 7 Vicki West, Sculptor
Episode 8 Tony Albert, Sculptor and Painter

Writer – Hetti Perkins, Producer -Mitch Stanley, Director – James Marshall

Quick Review

At 25 minutes per episode, the series is perfect for classrooms and tutorial groups. All the episodes give the viewer enough on each artist to get a personal background as well as inspire a further investigation of their work. While I highly recommend the series to schools to purchase, (you can buy a copy from the SBS Shop for only $30) there are a few things I need to write if this is going to be a “review”.

My first question is Where’s Richard? The opening sequence tells us this series is going to be irreverent, a bit “rock”, funny, and cheeky, as well as informative and insightful. Yet, in most of the episodes he’s there in the beginning, missing in the middle (especially in the apparently obligatory “visiting country” scenes), and then again for the final voice-over. I would love to have seen Richard mixing it up more. There was way less engagement between Richard and the subjects than I expected. Knowing Richard the way I do, I was eagerly anticipating that he would be asking the good questions, making comments, offering insight and being much more a part of the conversation throughout the entire series. I have heard there is a second series of Colour Theory. I really hope there is, and I hope they keep Richard as host but give him more screen time and drive the conversations a bit more. (WE WANT RITCHIE!!)

My second point of feedback is that some of the episodes dragged on a bit – a few too many “gazing at country” shots, and it seemed that the artists often repeated themselves (I admit I had a little snooze during at least one episode). I would also love to have seen more of the artists working, especially Vicki, Reko, Archie and Yhonnie. Australia is an incredible country, and some of the shots in Colour Theory reinforced the beauty and majesty of the landscape. The problem is, I wanted to be taken to the artists’ studio watching them create and make work. I’ll see the landscape of Australia, when I join the Grey Nomad tour in a decade or so. It’s Inside the Artists’ Studio that we normal people don’t get to see. And with Richard, himself a practising artist, and given an opportunity to get his hands dirty, I was looking forward to a kind of intimacy that just wasn’t there.

What I really did appreciate from Colour Theory is that there were less White experts than normal. Most documentaries on things “Aboriginal” are usually littered with White Experts. It was great to see Aboriginal art “experts” who are actually Aboriginal getting a good chunk of the screen time.

I’ve never made a television series, and I reckon it would have to be hard work knowing where to pitch programs. As an outsider, The West Wing looked believable-ish to me! So, as someone who has been hanging around the fringes of “art” for a few years, I found the series a tad frustrating. There were a lot of questions I wanted answered, and there was background information on the artists’ careers I thought would have been included, but was missing.

All in all, it was a very good series. It provided a good background on 8 amazing artists. The stand out episode for me was Episode 6 on Archie Moore. I’ve known Archie’s work for a while. I remember the first exhibition I saw of his at Fireworks Gallery at New Farm, Brisbane probably over a decade ago. He’d created these self-portraits using ink stamps. His work was exciting back then, and seeing the pieces at The Commercial Gallery, I reckon demonstrates that he’s yet to reach his peak. Am looking forward to seeing Archie featured more heavily in the big public exhibitions in the future.

tl;dr BUY IT.

Critical Classroom Rating: 4 out of 5 stars