Art Wednesday: Albert Namatjira
Artist: Albert Namatjira
1902 - 1959
Australian Indigenous painter: Landscape painter
Albert (Elea) Namatjiri was born in central Australia at the Hermannsburg Mission near Alice Springs. After a western style upbringing on the mission, at the age of 13, Namatjira returned to the bush for initiation and was exposed to traditional culture as a member of the Arrernte community (in which he was to eventually become an elder). After he returned, he married his wife Rubina at the age of 18. His wife, like his father's wife, was from the wrong "skin" group and he violated the law of his people by marrying outside the classificatory kinship system. In 1928 he was ostracised for several years in which he worked as a camel driver and saw much of central Australia, which he was later to depict in his paintings.
Although doing a small amount of rough but non-traditional artwork in his youth, Namatjira was introduced to western style painting through an exhibition by two painters from Melbourne at his mission in 1934. One of these painters, Rex Battarbee, returned to the area in the winter of 1936 to paint the landscape and Namatjira acted as a guide to show him local scenic areas. In return Namatjira was shown how to paint with watercolours, a skill at which he quickly excelled.
|Simpsons Gap, near Alice Springs|
Namatjimi held his first exhibition in 1938 (in Melbourne). Subsequent exhibitions in Sydney and Adelaide also sold out. For ten years Namatjira continued to paint, his works continuing to sell quickly and his popularity continuing to rise. Queen Elizabeth II became one of his more notable fans and he was awarded the Queen's Coronation medal in 1953 and met her in Canberra in 1954. Not only did his own art become widely recognized, but a painting of him by William Dargie won the Archibald Prize in 1956. He became popular, critically acclaimed and wealthy. He, however, was always glad to return to the outback.
|Kwariitnama (Organ Pipes) rock formation|
Sadly his wealth led to expectations of his "people" to share the money - and as we all know, not a lot of good comes from money. More and more people expected him to support them and at one time he was supporting up to 600 Indigenous people. Problems followed and in the end he lived in poverty living in a shanty. He also ran into trouble with the law and spent time in jail. It was a sad ending for one of Australia's most outstanding artists.
|Ghost Gums at Glen Helen, near Alice Springs|
|Stanley Chasm, near Alice Springs|
|Palm Valley - He held the status of kutungula (manager) of this country, which he inherited from his mother Ljukutja. Namatjira's mother belonged to the clan country around Alyape, what is now known as Palm Valley.|
For those unfamiliar with Australia, Alice Springs in the middle of the country in the Northern Territory and this is the region that Albert Namatjiri painted.