Albert Namatjira

Albert Namatjira (1902 – 1959) artist
Elea (who was given the name Albert) Namatjira was born on 28 July 1902 at Hermannsburg (Ntaria), Northern Territory. He belonged to the western group of the Arrernte people. In 1905 his family was received into the Lutheran Church.

Albert Namatjira 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’. He later made artefacts such as boomerangs and woomeras. Encouraged by the mission authorities, he began to produce mulga-wood plaques with poker-worked designs. Meanwhile, he worked as a blacksmith, carpenter, stockman and cameleer—at the mission for rations and on neighbouring stations for wages.

The spectacular scenery of Central Australia, then entering the national consciousness as a symbol of Australian identity, attracted artists to Hermannsburg, among them Rex Battarbee and John Gardner. During their second visit in 1934 they held an exhibition for an Aboriginal audience. The Arrernte were familiar with illustrations of biblical scenes, but none had seen landscapes depicting their own surroundings.

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. In 1936 he accompanied Battarbee as a cameleer on two month-long excursions in and around the Macdonnell Ranges. Battarbee was impressed by his evident talent. In the following year Pastor Friedrich Albrecht, the superintendent of Hermannsburg, displayed ten of Namatjira’s watercolours at a Lutheran conference held at Nuriootpa, South Australia. Battarbee included another three of his water-colours in an exhibition with the Royal South Australian Society of Arts, Adelaide. In 1938 the two men went on an expedition, during which Battarbee taught him photography. Later that year Namatjira held his first solo exhibition at the Fine Art Society Gallery, Melbourne. With Battarbee’s assistance as teacher, dealer and mentor, a school of artists developed around Namatjira.

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. Superficially, his paintings give the appearance of conventional European landscapes, but Namatjira painted with ‘country in mind’ and continually returned to sites imbued with ancestral associations. The repetition, detailed patterning and high horizons—so characteristic of his work—blended Aboriginal and European modes of depiction.

Complete article :

Albert Namatjira’s paintings at the National Gallery Canberra :

Influential Australian aboriginal Christians
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