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Albert Namatjira

Albert Namatjira

Overview

Albert Namatjira born Elea Namatjira, was an Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

n artist. He was a Western Arrernte
Western Arrernte
Western Arrernte refers to Arrernte people who traditionally live in Arrernte lands west of Alice Springs. It also refers to a dialect of the Arrernte language that is spoken in this area. Some people argue that Western Arrernte is an entirely different language and group of people to Central...

 man, an Indigenous Australian of the Western MacDonnell Ranges
MacDonnell Ranges
The MacDonnell Ranges of the Northern Territory, are a long series of mountain ranges located in the centre of Australia , and consist of parallel ridges running to the east and west of Alice Springs...

 area. Albert Namatjira is perhaps Australia's best known Aboriginal painter, with his work forming one of the foundations of contemporary Indigenous Australian art
Contemporary Indigenous Australian art
Contemporary Indigenous Australian art is the modern art work produced by Indigenous Australians. It is generally regarded as beginning with a painting movement that started at Papunya, northwest of Alice Springs, Northern Territory in 1971, involving artists such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri...

.

He is best known for his watercolour Australian outback
Outback
The Outback is the vast, remote, arid area of Australia, term colloquially can refer to any lands outside the main urban areas. The term "the outback" is generally used to refer to locations that are comparatively more remote than those areas named "the bush".-Overview:The outback is home to a...

 desert landscapes, a style which inspired the Hermannsburg School
Hermannsburg School
The Hermannsburg School is an art movement, or art style, which began at the Hermannsburg Mission in the 1930s. The most well known artist of the style is Albert Namatjira...

 of Aboriginal art
Australian Aboriginal art
Indigenous Australian art is art made by the Indigenous peoples of Australia and in collaborations between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians . It includes works in a wide range of media including painting on leaves, wood carving, rock carving, sculpture, ceremonial clothing and sandpainting...

.
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Albert Namatjira born Elea Namatjira, was an Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

n artist. He was a Western Arrernte
Western Arrernte
Western Arrernte refers to Arrernte people who traditionally live in Arrernte lands west of Alice Springs. It also refers to a dialect of the Arrernte language that is spoken in this area. Some people argue that Western Arrernte is an entirely different language and group of people to Central...

 man, an Indigenous Australian of the Western MacDonnell Ranges
MacDonnell Ranges
The MacDonnell Ranges of the Northern Territory, are a long series of mountain ranges located in the centre of Australia , and consist of parallel ridges running to the east and west of Alice Springs...

 area. Albert Namatjira is perhaps Australia's best known Aboriginal painter, with his work forming one of the foundations of contemporary Indigenous Australian art
Contemporary Indigenous Australian art
Contemporary Indigenous Australian art is the modern art work produced by Indigenous Australians. It is generally regarded as beginning with a painting movement that started at Papunya, northwest of Alice Springs, Northern Territory in 1971, involving artists such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri...

.

He is best known for his watercolour Australian outback
Outback
The Outback is the vast, remote, arid area of Australia, term colloquially can refer to any lands outside the main urban areas. The term "the outback" is generally used to refer to locations that are comparatively more remote than those areas named "the bush".-Overview:The outback is home to a...

 desert landscapes, a style which inspired the Hermannsburg School
Hermannsburg School
The Hermannsburg School is an art movement, or art style, which began at the Hermannsburg Mission in the 1930s. The most well known artist of the style is Albert Namatjira...

 of Aboriginal art
Australian Aboriginal art
Indigenous Australian art is art made by the Indigenous peoples of Australia and in collaborations between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians . It includes works in a wide range of media including painting on leaves, wood carving, rock carving, sculpture, ceremonial clothing and sandpainting...

. While his work is the product of his life and experiences, his paintings are not in the highly symbolic style of traditional Aboriginal art; they are richly detailed depictions.

He is also notable for being the first Northern Territory
Northern Territory
The Northern Territory is a federal territory of Australia, occupying much of the centre of the mainland continent, as well as the central northern regions...

 Indigenous Australian to be freed from the restrictions of legislation that made Aborigines wards of the State.

Early life


Born at Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission
Hermannsburg, Northern Territory
Hermannsburg is an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory of Australia, 131 km southwest of Alice Springs. It is known in the local Western Arrernte language as Ntaria....

, near Alice Springs
Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Alice Springs is the second largest town in the Northern Territory of Australia. Popularly known as "the Alice" or simply "Alice", Alice Springs is situated in the geographic centre of Australia near the southern border of the Northern Territory...

 in 1902, Namatjira was raised on the Hermannsburg Mission and baptised after his parents' adoption of Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

. He was born as Elea, but once baptised, they changed his name to Albert. 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). He obtained the love and respect of his land that is seen in his works. 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
Central Australia
Central Australia/Alice Springs Region is one of the five regions in the Northern Territory. The term Central Australia is used to describe an area centred on Alice Springs in Australia. It is sometimes referred to as Centralia; likewise the people of the area are sometimes called Centralians...

, 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
Melbourne
Melbourne is the capital and most populous city in the state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia. The Melbourne City Centre is the hub of the greater metropolitan area and the Census statistical division—of which "Melbourne" is the common name. As of June 2009, the greater...

 at his mission in 1934. One of these painters, Rex Battarbee
Rex Battarbee
Reginald Ernest Battarbee was an Australian artist notable for painting landscapes of Central Australia, and for teaching Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira to paint.-Early career:...

, 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.

The height of success



Namatjira started painting in a distinctly unique style. His landscapes normally highlighted both the rugged geological features of the land in the background, and the distinctive Australian flora in the foreground with very old stately and majestic white gum trees surrounded by twisted scrub. His work had a high quality of illumination showing the gashes of the land and the twists in the trees. His colours were similar to the ochres that his ancestors had used to depict the same landscape, but his style was appreciated by Europeans because it met the aesthetics of western art.

In 1938 his first exhibition was held in Melbourne. Subsequent exhibitions in Sydney
Sydney
Sydney is the most populous city in Australia and the state capital of New South Wales. Sydney is located on Australia's south-east coast of the Tasman Sea. As of June 2010, the greater metropolitan area had an approximate population of 4.6 million people...

 and Adelaide
Adelaide
Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia and the fifth-largest city in Australia. Adelaide has an estimated population of more than 1.2 million...

 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
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...

 became one of his more notable fans and he was awarded the Queen's Coronation medal in 1953 and met her in Canberra
Canberra
Canberra is the capital city of Australia. With a population of over 345,000, it is Australia's largest inland city and the eighth-largest city overall. The city is located at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory , south-west of Sydney, and north-east of Melbourne...

 in 1954. Not only did his own art become widely recognized, but a painting of him by William Dargie
William Dargie
Sir William Alexander Dargie CBE was an Australian painter, known especially for his portrait paintings. He holds the record for the most Archibald Prize wins; eight. He was an official Australian War Artist during World War II.- Biography :William Dargie was born in Footscray, Victoria, the first...

 won the Archibald Prize
Archibald Prize
The Archibald Prize is regarded as the most important portraiture prize in Australia. It was first awarded in 1921 after a bequest from J. F. Archibald, the editor of The Bulletin who died in 1919...

 in 1956. He became popular, critically acclaimed and wealthy. He, however, was always glad to return to the outback.

Artworks


Namatjira's artworks were colourful and varied depictions of the Australian landscape. One of his first landscapes from 1936, Central Australian Landscape, shows a land of rolling green hills. Another early work, Ajantzi Waterhole (1937), shows a close up view of a small waterhole, with Namatjira capturing the reflection in the water. The landscape becomes one of contrasting colours, a device that is often used by Western painters, with red hills and green trees in Red Bluff (1938). Central Australian Gorge (1940) shows detailed rendering of rocks and reflections in the water. In Flowering Shrubs Namatjira contrasts the blossoming flowers in the foreground with the more barren desert and cliffs in the background. Namatjira's love of trees was often described so that his paintings of trees were more portraits than landscapes, which is shown in the portrait of the often depicted ghost gum
Corymbia aparrerinja
Corymbia aparrerinja commonly known as Ghost Gum, is an evergreen tree that is native to Central Australia....

 in Ghost Gum Glen Helen (c.1945-49). Namatjira's skills at colouring trees can be clearly seen in this portrait.

Namatjira was fully aware of his own talent, as was shown when he was describing another landscape painter to William Dargie.

"He does not know how to make the side of a tree which is in the light look the same colour as the side of the tree in shadow...I know how to do better."

Namatjira's skills kept increasing with experience as is shown in the highly photographic quality of Mt Hermannsburg (1957), painted only two years before he died.

Later life and demise



Due to his wealth, Namatjira soon found himself the subject of humbugging, a ritualised form of begging. Arrernte are expected to share everything they own, and as Namatjira's income grew, so did his extended family. At one time he was singlehandedly providing for over 600 people. To ease the burden on his strained resources, Namatjira sought to lease a cattle station to benefit his extended family. Originally granted, the lease was subsequently rejected because the land was part of a returned servicemen's ballot, and also because he had no ancestral claim on the property. He then tried to build a house in Alice Springs, but was cheated in his land dealings. The land he was sold was on a flood plain and was unsuitable for building. The Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck
Paul Hasluck
Sir Paul Meernaa Caedwalla Hasluck KG GCMG GCVO KStJ was an Australian historian, poet, public servant and politician, and the 17th Governor-General of Australia.-Early life:...

, offered him free land in a reserve on the outskirts of Alice Springs, but this was rejected, and Namatjira and his family took up residence in a squalid shanty at Morris Soak—a dry creek bed some distance from Alice Springs. Despite the fact that he was held as one of Australia's greatest artists, Namatjira was living in poverty. His plight became a media cause celebre, resulting in a wave of public outrage.

In 1957 the government exempted Namatjira and his wife from the restrictive legislation that applied to Aborigines in the Northern Territory. This entitled them to vote, own land, build a house and buy alcohol. Although Albert and Rubina were legally allowed to drink alcohol, his Aboriginal family and friends were not. The nomadic Arrernte culture expected him to share everything he owned, even after they ceased being nomads. It was this contradiction that was to bring Namatjira into conflict with the law.

When an Aboriginal woman, Fay Iowa, was killed at Morris Soak, Namatjira was held responsible by Jim Lemaire, the Stipendiary Magistrate, for bringing alcohol into the camp. He was reprimanded at the coronial inquest. It was then against the law to supply alcohol to an Aboriginal person. Namatjira was charged with leaving a bottle of rum
Rum
Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane by-products such as molasses, or directly from sugarcane juice, by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak barrels...

 in a place, i.e. on a car seat, where a clan brother and fellow Hermannsburg artist Henoch Raberaba, could get access to it. He was sentenced to six months in prison for supplying an Aboriginal with liquor. After a public uproar, Hasluck intervened and the sentence was served at Papunya Native Reserve. He was released after only serving two months due to medical and humanitarian reasons.

Despondent after his incarceration, Namatjira continued to live with Rubina in a cottage at Papunya, where he suffered a heart attack. There is evidence that Albert believed that he had the bone pointed at him by a member of Fay Iowa's family. The idea of being "sung" to death was also held by Frank Clune
Frank Clune
Francis Patrick Clune, OBE, was a best-selling Australian author, travel writer and popular historian.-Early life and career:Frank Clune was born in Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney in 1893, and grew up in Redfern...

, a popular travel writer, aboriginal activist, and organiser of Albert's whirlwind 1956 trip.

After being transferred to Alice Springs hospital, Namatjira astonished his mentor Rex Battarbee by presenting him with three landscapes, with a promise of more to come; a promise unrealised. He died soon after of heart disease complicated by pneumonia
Pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—especially affecting the microscopic air sacs —associated with fever, chest symptoms, and a lack of air space on a chest X-ray. Pneumonia is typically caused by an infection but there are a number of other causes...

 on 8 August 1959 in Alice Springs.

Legacy


At the time of his death Namatjira had painted a total of around two thousand paintings and had two short biographical films made about him. His unique style of painting however was denounced soon after his death by some critics as being a product of his assimilation into western culture, rather than his own connection to his subject matter or his natural style. This view has been largely abandoned and Albert Namatjira is hailed as one of the greatest Australian artists and a pioneer for Aboriginal rights.

Namatjira's work is on public display in some of Australia's major art galleries, with some noteworthy exceptions. The Art Gallery of New South Wales rejected Namatjira's work. In the words of Hal Missingham
Hal Missingham
Harold "Hal" Missingham AO was an Australian artist, Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 1945 to 1971,. and president of the Australian Watercolour Institute from 1952 to 1955.-Biography:...

, the then Director of the gallery: "We'll consider his work when it comes up to scratch".

Albert Namatjira is the subject of a song of the same name by the Australian band Not Drowning, Waving
Not Drowning, Waving
Not Drowning, Waving were a musical group formed in Melbourne, Australia in 1983 by David Bridie and John Phillips...

, included on their 1993 album, Circus. He is also referenced in Midnight Oil
Midnight Oil
Midnight Oil , were an Australian rock band from Sydney originally performing as Farm from 1972 with drummer Rob Hirst, bass guitarist Andrew James and keyboard player/lead guitarist Jim Moginie...

's song, Truganani
Truganani (song)
"Truganani" is a song by Australian rock band Midnight Oil, from their album Earth and Sun and Moon. It was inspired by Truganini, a Tasmanian Aboriginal....

; I Am Australian
I Am Australian
I am Australian is a popular Australian poem written in 1987 by Bruce Woodley of The Seekers and Dobe Newton of The Bushwackers. Its lyrics are filled with many historic and cultural references, such as to the 'digger', Albert Namatjira and Ned Kelly, among others...

; John Williamson
John Williamson
John Williamson is the name of:* Jack Williamson , American science fiction writer* John H. Williamson , American, North Carolina politician and newspaper publisher* John N. Williamson , American, U.S...

's Raining on the Rock from his 1986 EMI
EMI
The EMI Group, also known as EMI Music or simply EMI, is a multinational music company headquartered in London, United Kingdom. It is the fourth-largest business group and family of record labels in the recording industry and one of the "big four" record companies. EMI Group also has a major...

 album Mallee Boy and also The Camel Boy from his 2005 EMI
EMI
The EMI Group, also known as EMI Music or simply EMI, is a multinational music company headquartered in London, United Kingdom. It is the fourth-largest business group and family of record labels in the recording industry and one of the "big four" record companies. EMI Group also has a major...

 album Chandelier Of Stars and in Archie Roach
Archie Roach
Archie Roach is an Australian musician. A singer, songwriter and guitarist, he survived a turbulent upbringing to develop into a powerful voice for Indigenous Australians, a storyteller in the tradition of his ancestors, and a nationally popular and respected artist.- Biography :In his own words,...

's song, Native Born.Slim Dusty was the first recording artist to record a tribute song"Namatjira" in the 1960s,and Rick and Thel Carey followed up with their tribute "The Stairs That Namatjira Climbed".

In 1968 he was honoured on a postage stamp
Postage stamp
A postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is purchased and displayed on an item of mail as evidence of payment of postage. Typically, stamps are made from special paper, with a national designation and denomination on the face, and a gum adhesive on the reverse side...

 issued by Australia Post
Australia Post
Australia Post is the trading name of the Australian Government-owned Australian Postal Corporation .-History:...

 http://www.australianstamp.com/images/large/0009010.jpg and again in 1993 with examples of his work.http://www.australianstamp.com/images/large/0021620.jpghttp://www.australianstamp.com/images/large/0021630.jpg

External links