Vincent Namatjira works reflects on his heritage and the ongoing impact of Australia’s colonial history. Infusing history with a sharp eye and dry wit his paintings highlight the ongoing impact that colonial expansion and political motivations have on the lives of Indigenous Australians. Ppainting influential figures from his studio in remote Australia also brings those people closer to his own life, reinforcing their far reaching impact on everyday existence around the globe. The political is always personal.
His new series Legends celebrates Indigenous legends, people who have fought for and changed perceptions of Indigeneity in Australia including political activist Eddie Mabo, St Kilda, footballer Nicky Winmar, singer Archie Roach and singer Gordon Bennett. The Richest, which was a finalist in the Ramsay Art Prize, is a series of seven portraits of Australia’s wealthiest people. His observational works also chart his personal history and his investigatory search for identity. Losing his mother at seven, Namatjira and his sister were placed into the welfare system; it was only as an adult he returned to the traditional lands in South Australia.
‘I’m interested in people and their stories, and how someone from today is connected with the past. Having just a little bit of humour can take the power out of a serious situation, whether something is happening to you right now, or it happened long ago – it lets you be in a little bit of control again, you can get a bit of cheeky revenge. A sense of humour and a paintbrush is a powerful thing.’ (Vincent Namatjira, 2016)
There is dynamic naïve strength to Namatjira’s work, a courage and straight-plication of paint His broad brush strokes are evocative of a personality or situation rather than seeking a true likeness, creating works that are simultaneously engaging yet estranged.