Richard Bell
The Sign Says It

About this work of art

Audio description of the work of art

The Sign Says Itis by Richard Bell, a member of the Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang communities of Queensland, Australia. Painted in 2017, it is a square format synthetic polymer painting on linen, 200cm by 200cm.

The painting references a black and white 1968 newspaper photograph of a protest march in Darwin, against the Northern Territory Government. It depicts a group of eleven Aboriginal men, walking towards the viewer. The men are in motion, they are in mid-step. Two men at the front hold a sign.

The details of the original small black-and-white photograph are simplified by the artist in his recreation of the image, painting it at a large scale and in bright colours.

All the men have brown skin and black and grey hair. The right side of their faces and their eye sockets are in shadow, areas of dark brown and black.

The four men at the front of the group are depicted almost full length, their heads at the top of the painting, with their lower legs and feet at the bottom.

Two of these men hold a rectangular white sign horizontally between them. In black capital letters the sign reads ASK - US WHAT - WEWANT. The word WE is underlined for emphasis, and there are dashes between ASK and US and between WHAT and WE. Replicating the hand-painted sign in the original photograph, the letters are irregular, some are thin and others thicker and none of the lines are straight. The sign takes up most of the centre and centre-right areas of the painting.

On the far left, at the painting’s edge, one of the four men wears an orange collared polo-style shirt with white and brown horizontal stripes, pink shorts and brown shoes. His bare legs are dark brown, and his dark hair is closely cropped.

In the left of the painting, walking just in front of the man on the far left is a second man. This man’s left hip and upper left leg is obscured by the sign he holds in front of him. He is tall and thin. His brow is furrowed and he is unsmiling, his mouth open. He wears a short sleeved collared shirt open at the neck, blue with blue vertical stripes, and blue pants.

The man in the centre of the painting wears an orange collared shirt, and pale brown pants and shoes. Most of his body is obscured by the sign held in front of him by the other men.

In the right of the painting the fourth man holds the other end of the sign between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, the sign obscuring his body from chest to knees. He is wearing a yellow polo-style shirt and pale grey pants, his head slightly lowered. Painted a lighter brown, his wide, high forehead, nose and rounded cheeks are in sunlight.

Behind the four men at the front, at a distance behind them, are the seven other men. One of these men wears a red shirt, arm mid-motion in front of his chest. The other men walk further behind, only their heads in view over the shoulders of the men in front.

The area around the men is devoid of details. A light blue background that undergoes a subtle shift from soft baby blue at the top to bright corn-flour blue at the bottom, near the men’s feet.