Albert Namatjira, Aussie artist caught between two worlds
His life, however, was marred by racism, misfortune and depression. Albert Namatjira was born to Christian parents whose background had been as tribal people in the northern deserts. He attended the school at Hermannsburg, a mission about 225 km (140 miles) from the remote outback town of Alice Springs, and at 13 was taken into the bush for manhood initiation ceremonies in his Arrernte (Aranda) tribe.
Work as a camel driver took him to parts of Australia's red centre that he might not otherwise have visited, places that appeared in his work. He had learned to draw in school, and, from the late 1920s, Namatjira had contact with white Australian artists who came to 'The Centre' in search of magnificent scenery afforded by that part of the world. In 1936, one visiting artist, Rex Batterbee, taught the keen student how to paint in the European style.
Namatjira's first public showing was two years later, in Melbourne, and proved to be a great success as his superb watercolours drew the attention of art lovers. Over succeeding years his fame grew for his haunting landscapes of land and gumtrees, and with it came financial rewards. In 1954, he met Britain's Queen Elizabeth on her Australian tour. The Queen purchased several of his paintings, including 'Ghost Gums in the Macdonnell Ranges'.
Married (to a woman of another tribe, which attracted great displeasure amongst his people) and with seven children, Namatjira tried to lease a cattle station (ranch), but paternalistic laws in the Northern Territory at the time disallowed this. Though his name was known in virtually every home in his ancestral land, the Aboriginal celebrity's attempts to gain permission to build a house in Alice Springs also met with a firm wall of forbidding racism.
Albert Namatjira descended into depression and alcoholism, eventually finding himself jailed for two months for providing alcohol to family members. Despite his fame and success, his life had become a litany of injury, hospitalization, imprisonment and despair, and he died in 1959, aged just 57, a broken man ...
Categories: australia, art, indigenous