"In the beginning"


The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of the blog management, (on the other hand, they are not necessarily not the views of the blog management).

No effort has been made to stay within the bounds of the truth in this blog as it has always been the view of the management that the truth should never be allowed to stand in the way of a good story.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Albert Namatjira

Please click on photos to enbiggen.

Regular readers may well recognize this photo of a bookstall at the wonderful weekend market at Port Adelaide, I was impressed by the casual disarray the owner had created which proved to be a magnet to myself and many other book lovers... a clever marketing ploy!!!!

I purchased this book, along with a few others, while I was there, the object to my purchase was to provide research material for this blog, my reason for displaying it in such a disorganized setting was to give a glimpse into the harsh conditions that these brilliant posts are born from.

I have chosen as my first blog subject from this book the only indigenous Australian listed, whether this is a fair assessment of our indigenous people is a matter for private opinion, suffice to say Namatjira was a brilliant painter who enjoyed world renown in his chosen field.

NAMATJIRA, ALBERT (ELEA) (1902-1959), artist, was born on 28 July 1902 at Hermannsburg (Ntaria), Northern Territory, son of Namatjira and his wife Ljukuta. Elea belonged to the western group of the Arrernte people. In 1905 the family was received into the Lutheran Church: Elea (who was given the name Albert) and his father (who took the name Jonathan) were baptized, and his mother was blessed (as Emilie). Albert attended the Hermannsburg mission school. In accordance with the practice of the missions, he lived separately from his parents in a boys' dormitory. At 13 he spent six months in the bush and underwent initiation. He left the mission again at the age of 18 and married Ilkalita, a Kukatja woman. Eight of their children were to survive infancy: five sons—Enos, Oscar, Ewald, Keith and Maurice—and three daughters—Maisie, Hazel and Martha. The family shifted to Hermannsburg in 1923 and Ilkalita was christened Rubina.

In his boyhood Albert sketched 'scenes and incidents around him . . . the cattle yard, the stockmen with their horses, and the hunters after game'. Motivated by a deep attachment to his country and the possibility of a vocation that offered financial return, Namatjira expressed an interest in learning to paint. Pastor Friedrich Albrecht, the superintendent of Hermannsburg, encouraged him in this and later displayed ten of Namatjira's watercolours at a Lutheran conference held at Nuriootpa, South Australia.

Although Namatjira is best known for his water-colour landscapes of the Macdonnell Ranges and the nearby region, earlier in his career his imagery had included tjuringa designs, biblical themes and figurative subjects. He also produced carved and painted artefacts, and briefly painted on bean-wood panels.

Namatjira's initiatives won national and international acclaim. As the first prominent Aboriginal artist to work in a modern idiom, he was widely regarded as a representative of assimilation. In 1944 he was included in Who's Who in Australia. He was awarded Queen Elizabeth II's coronation medal (1953), presented to the Queen in Canberra (1954) and elected an honorary member of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales (1955). His quiet and dignified presence belied the underlying tensions in his life.

With fame came controversy. Namatjira's brilliant career highlighted the gap between the rhetoric and reality of assimilation policies. Tensions arose between Namatjira and the Aranda Arts Council when the council tried to maintain control over the quality and quantity of his work. Namatjira also encountered racial discrimination. He was refused a grazing licence in 1949-50 and prevented in 1951 from building a house on land he bought at Alice Springs. By the early 1950s he lived independently of the mission in a fringe camp at Morris Soak on the outskirts of Alice Springs.

The citizenship granted to Namatjira in 1957 led to further anomalies. Exempted from the restrictions imposed on other 'full-blooded' Aborigines, he had access to alcohol which he shared with members of his family in accordance with Aboriginal custom. In 1958 he was charged with supplying alcohol to the artist Henoch Raberaba and sentenced to six months imprisonment with labour. Following a public outcry and two appeals, the sentence was reduced to three months. Namatjira finally served two months of 'open' detention at the Papunya settlement in March-May 1959. He died of hypertensive heart failure on 8 August that year at Alice Springs Hospital and was buried with Lutheran forms in the local cemetery. His wife, five sons and one of his daughters survived him.

For a time Namatjira's name drifted into obscurity, his achievements largely eclipsed by the 'dot painting' style developed at Papunya in the 1970s. his grand-daughter Elaine, acknowledged Namatjira's legacy by producing a terracotta mural for the headstone of his grave. The work is a landscape combining three sites in the Macdonnell Ranges which were the subjects of his paintings

This painting is typical of Namatjira's work with Ghost Gums set against his beloved Macdonnell Ranges.

Still only a young man when he died Namatjira had tasted success, criticism, frustration and failure, his paintings however did open many doors for indigenous painters who were to follow and he has proven to be a role model for both black and white to follow.


WT said...

I love Namatjira's work, however I can't say the same for dot painting, which has to be the greatest hoax played on the art world since Marcel Duchamp produced Fountain.

Pamela said...

What a gorgeous painting! Story is very sad tho.

ps. this is the first time I've heard about dot painting.

kenju said...

It's a lovely painting. I'm sorry he had such a hard life.

Merle said...

Hi Peter ~~ Great post about Albert -
A few things I hadn't heard. Love his
paintings and it was interesting his granddaughter painted a special headstone for his grave.

I had a nice visit from Jan and Pauline yesterday on their way to Carol's in Mooroopna and off on holiday today, Sunday.
Take care, Love, Merle.

Puss-in-Boots said...

There's a section in the Darwin Museum dedicated to Albert Namatjira with originals of his paintings and also those of his son. It was a terrific experience to see his originals "live", if you wish.

Interesting post, Peter.

karisma said...

Thanx! I enjoyed reading that. His work is brilliant, but his story so sad. I don't mind some of the dot paintings when they have talent behind them, some shows I have been too have displayed some great talent. One artist explained her work to me as each part of her painting represented her life and ancestors.

I had to laugh when I embiggened that first photo. I would have been in heaven there, but maybe come home very poor!

I not only spotted books, but baskets, one of my other naughty fetish of mine when out shopping! Now if the stitches and craft show was next door, I never would have gone home! LOL!

Walker said...

Great post.
He was determind to live the way he wante to live and suceeded in leaving his mark dispite all the obsticles against him.

Jack K. said...

Wonderful post, Peter. We could all benefit from such postings. It gives us pause to think about how we might be contributing to inappropriate treatment of another human being.

Loved the painting. Thanks for sharing.

For those who are interested in art, this is a link to some of my brother's paintings. Enjoy.

Rachel said...

I remember that picture with all the books. A person could browse forever!! A book lovers paradise!

Great painter but he had a sad life. Interesting post Peter!!