Born in 1946 in Vaughan Springs, Michael Nelson was taught sand paintings, body paintings and shield paintings by his grandfather when he was a boy. His country, near Vaughan Springs, lies at the intersection of several major Dreaming paths and, thus, his paintings depict these many sacred sites.
The father of six girls and one boy, Michael Nelson is a family orientated man. "When I paint I always have my children around me. I talk to them and tell them stories about our country. We often sit around the camp fire, telling stories. I want to pass on my culture. I'm proud of my work."
Acclaimed as an outstanding artist who has a unique ability to articulate the meaning of his work, Michael Nelson has been instrumental in communicating the significance of Aboriginal culture and art to the world.
"Acrylic paintings really represent Aboriginal recognition of their place in Australian society. Aboriginal art is best though, in my mind, as a wedge into the dominant world-view of European society."
Michael Nelson always plans a painting in his mind. By contemplating the relationship between conceptual design and the body of knowledge that it relates to, he forms a holistic integration which represents Aboriginal people through time, space and the land itself.
"Aboriginal Art is different to Non-Aboriginal Art. They make it up in their imagination but ours are not just pretty pictures. Our stories are given to us to carry and pass on to our children. NonAboriginal people have to be prepared, when they see our paintings, to learn something about Aboriginal culture."
In addition to seeing his art as a cultural statement, Michael views it as a political tool to gain more leverage for Aboriginal land rights and self-determination. To Michael, art, religion and politics cannot be separated. He believes that greater political recognition,
In 1992 BMW and approached Michael as well as several other prominent Australian Artists such as Ken Done, to paint a BMW car in his traditional design. The car supplied was the car that won the Shell Ultra Australian Touring Championship in 1987. The car is not in a private art collection.
Michael’s work has been exhibited in both solo and group shows nationally and overseas. In 1985 his work was shown at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and in 1986 in the Biennale of Sydney. In 1987 he exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art London as a part of ‘State of the Arts: Ideas and Images of the 1980’s’. In 1987 and 1998 his work was exhibited in solo exhibitions at Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi Melbourne. Other exhibitions include: ‘Dreamings: the art of Aboriginal Australia’, The Asia Society Galleries New York 1988; ‘Papunya Tula: Contemporary Paintings from Australia’s Western Desert’ John Weber Gallery New York, Cento Cultural Arte Contemporaneo Mexico City 1989, National Gallery of Modern Art Rome 1990, ‘The Painted Dream...’ Auckland City Art Gallery and Te Whare Taonga o Aoteroa National Art Gallery New Zealand 1991, ‘Crossroads-Towards a New Reality’ National Museums of Modern Art Kyoto and Tokyo Japan 1992, 1993\4 ‘ARATJARA’ touring Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, Hayward Gallery London, Louisiana Museum Humlebaek Denmark. His work was included in ‘Indigenous art of the Dreamtime‘, held in the Foyer of the United Nations Building 1999, New York, USA, and 2001 ‘Icons of Australian Aboriginal Art, Singapore; 2002 Gallerie Commines, Paris; Australian Embassy, Paris.
More recently Michael’s work was shown in ‘Mythology and Reality: Contemporary Aboriginal Desert Art from the Gabrielle Pizzi Collection’, 2001-2004, which toured Palazzo Bricherasio Turin, Italy; AAM Utrecht, Netherlands, Prato Centre, Italy; Jerusalem Centre for the Performing Arts, Israel; SH Ervin Gallery, Sydney; Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne.
In 1984 Michael was the recipient of the National Aboriginal Art Award and in 1993 he received an Order of Australia Medal in recognition of his vital contribution to Aboriginal Art. In 2001 Michael was a finalist in the 18th Telstra NATSIAA. Commissions include a painting in the Sydney Opera House 1987 and a mosaic in the forecourt at Parliament House, Canberra, 1988. Michael Nelson is included in many important collections, including: Artbank Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of South Australia, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Australian Museum Sydney, Broken Hill Art Gallery, Museum and Art Gallery of the N.T., National Gallery of Australia Canberra, Parliament House Art Collection, Powerhouse Museum Sydney, Jinta Desert Art Gallery Sydney, Aboriginal Desert Art Gallery Alice Springs, Aboriginal Art Galleries of Australia Melbourne, Queensland Art Gallery Brisbane, The Holmes a Court Collection, The Kelton Foundation Santa Monica U.S.A.