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Vincent Namatjira: A Painter’s Journey From a Brush to History

Vincent Namatjira: A Painter’s Journey From a Brush to History

Vincent Namatjira: A Painter’s Journey From a Brush to History.

Vincent Namatjira, the acclaimed artist born on Arrernte land in Alice Springs in 1983, might not have always envisioned himself as a painter. Foster care marked his childhood in Perth, where he even contemplated a career in football. But his path took a turn when he reconnected with his family and their history upon returning to Alice Springs after high school.

During this period of reconnection, he first learned about his late great-grandfather, Albert Namatjira, a celebrated artist who, in 1957, became the first recorded Indigenous man granted citizenship in the Northern Territory. Vincent, now residing on APY Lands in South Australia with his partner, artist Natasha Pompey, waited several more years before picking up a paintbrush.

Vincent recalls, “My partner was doing dot painting at the art centre. I was sitting around the house, got bored, and decided to give art a try. Someone suggested, ‘You should do a portrait of Albert Namatjira.’ And that’s how it all started.”

Vincent and Albert Namatjira, though from different generations, parallel remarkably in art and history in their lives. In 1956, a portrait of Albert Namatjira painted by William Dargie won the Archibald Prize, marking the first time a portrait of an Indigenous person received this honor. Sixty-four years later, Vincent made history by becoming the first Indigenous artist to win the Archibald Prize with his portrait “Stand strong for who you are,” featuring former AFL player and community leader Adam Goodes.

In addition to their artistic achievements, both Vincent and Albert Namatjira share a unique connection to the British Royal family. Albert received a coronation medal in 1953 and met Queen Elizabeth II during her coronation tour in 1954. Vincent’s art often features portraits of himself alongside the former queen and other members of the British Royal family. He even painted a portrait of James Cook that found a home in the British Museum. Vincent aspires to receive a coronation medal or knighthood, strengthening his connection to this honor.

While becoming Sir Vincent Namatjira may remain a future aspiration, his career continues to thrive. His exhibition, “Desert Songs,” at Sydney’s Yavuz Gallery until October 28, showcases portraits of figures like King Charles, Albert Namatjira, Pitjantjatjara musician Frank Yamma, and self-portraits with Queen Elizabeth II and Vincent Van Gogh.
In the coming weeks, he will headline the Art Gallery of South Australia’s Tarnanthi Festival, and a major monograph featuring essays will be published.

His Tarnanthi Festival exhibition, “Vincent Namatjira: Australia in Colour,” presents new paintings and rarely seen works from public and private collections. Vincent describes his self-portraits as a powerful equalizing force, emphasizing, “To me, [these paintings] are like climbing on the right level. We’re walking on the same country, and around here, to be honest, we’re all countrymen.”

Vincent has also selected works by Albert Namatjira from AGSA’s collection to hang alongside his figurative portraits, calling it a “proud and privileged” experience to see their work displayed together.

For the Namatjira family, art is not only a form of self-expression but also a vehicle to support their community and advocate for causes like The Voice to Parliament, which Vincent sees as a crucial step forward for Indigenous people.

His hope is that his continued success will inspire younger generations of Indigenous artists. He encourages them to “pick up a paintbrush and paint a prominent Indigenous figure or role model,” emphasizing the transformative power of art: “When you pick up a paintbrush, it changes lives.”

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Source: https://www.broadsheet.com.au/national/art-and-design/article/vincent-namatjira-celebrated-indigenous-artist

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