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Indigenous painter continues famous family's honour


When he puts paint to canvas, South Australian artist Vincent Namatjira can feel the influence of his great grandfather.


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But unlike the world-renowned Albert Namatjira, who became famous for his Australian landscapes, the 36-year-old prefers portraits.

His work has sometimes been called caricatures, and often depicts famous people with Captain James Cook one of his favoured subjects.

It has earned him the Ramsay Art Prize from the South Australian Art Gallery and made him a finalist for the Archibald Prize.

Now, Namatjira has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his service to indigenous visual art and the community.

It’s an honour he feels his great grandfather would approve of.

“He would be very happy to see the Namatjira name still well known,” he said.

“Not just for our art, but also as strong, proud representatives for our people and our country.

“I’m inspired by his achievements and I definitely feel his influence when I’m working.”

Being “fascinated” by people in power and their influence, Namatjira paints figures personally familiar to him or in politics.

He said his works dissected those power structures, levelling the playing field using humour and bringing two worlds together.

“Painting has given me a voice and enabled me to be a leader and role model for my daughters and for my community,” he said.

Born in Alice Springs in 1983, Namatjira spent his early childhood in Hermannsburg.

After his mother died, he was raised in foster homes then moved back to the area as a young adult.

He and his wife settled at Kanpi, in South Australia’s Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands near the Northern Territory border, which was where he learned to paint.

His work has been exhibited internationally at the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, the Art Basel in Miami Beach and the British Museum in London.

Last year, he won the $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize, with his painting Close Contact which now resides in the art gallery’s collection.

Painted on plywood, the double-sided image features Captain Cook on one side and a self-portrait on the other.

Namatjira currently resides in Indulkana in SA’s north and paints for Aboriginal arts centre Iwantja Arts.


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