Albert Namatjira

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There have been a few cases of individuals belonging to minorities and still reigning supreme making a strong impact as artists – this is perfectly embodied in the life and story of Albert Namatjira. Namatjira was Australia’s first aboriginal painter and also its finest. He is the pioneer of Indigenous Australian Art and to this day remains the most famous aboriginal of his generation from Australia. Namatjira made an impact through his art at a time when Aboriginals in Australia had very few human rights. His artistic style is vastly different from traditional Aboriginal paintings; there is a strong element of westernization in his works which makes it universally appealing. Namatjira’s fame as an artist resulted in him and his wife being granted Australasian citizenship, they are the first Aboriginals to become Australian citizens.

Born as Elea Namatijira in 1902 in Alice Springs, northern Territory Australia, Albert Namatjira’s upbringing was very westernized. By the age of 13, he was fully exposed to the rituals, traditions and customs of his Arrernte community. The love and devotion for his community is evident in most of Namtjira’s paintings which depict rich and luscious Aboriginal lifestyle and the Australian outback. In the beginning Namatjira worked odd jobs like carpentry, construction work and sold some artwork of his to make a living to support his family. It wasn’t until the age of 32 when he realized art was his calling, with the help of a local artist Namatjira was introduced and quickly excelled at watercolor painting. Soon it became apparent that he was naturally gifted as an artist and within a few years he was holding his first solo exhibition in 1938 in Melbourne, which got sold out and received a great critical response. This was soon followed by exhibitions in Adelaide and Sydney; whilst his exhibitions continued to win rave reviews he was also winning a legion of fans including Queen Elizabeth among others. When most artists would try to subdue their background and culture Namatjira did the polar opposite by embracing it and celebrating it via his craft. This is one of the reasons why his paintings resonate so well with the audience. They offer a look inside into the world of the Aboriginals and what makes their customs so unique. Despite the acclaim and attention which came his way Namatjira was quite uncomfortable with his celebrity status. He was a staunch supporter of Aboriginal rights and is credited for being a strong reason why the Aboriginals are now Australian citizens today.

Albert Namatjira inspired a generation of Aboriginals to come forward and paint as well. Through his paintings one can see his heart was Australia and his tribe. The detail patterns of his paintings along with the high peaks and use of bold colors were a perfect blend of both Aboriginal and European styles. Amongst the numerous accolades Namatjira has received, these include being awarded with Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation medal, being elected as an honorary member of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales and winning the Archibald Prize.

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