Namatjira, Albert (Elea) (1902–1959) By McLean, Ian
Albert Namatjira was the leading artist of the modern Aboriginal watercolor art movement at the Hermannsburg (Ntaria) Lutheran mission in Central Australia. He was the first Aborigine to be recognized as a professional artist, to make a good living from his art, and gain national acclaim. The turning point in his life occurred in 1934, when two visiting landscape artists, Rex Battarbee and John Gardiner, exhibited paintings of the local scenery at the mission. Already a talented craftsman with a reputation at the mission for his artefacts and poker-worked designs, Namatjira was inspired by the exhibition to learn to paint his totemic landscape of the MacDonnell Ranges of Central Australia in the same modern landscape style. Namatjira’s paintings had a huge impact on the Western Arrernte, as well as on other Aboriginal artists and the wider Australian public. In depicting local ancestral sites in the pictorial language of Biblical illustrations, Namatjira’s paintings are a visual parallel to the Arrernte Bible, effectively translating their ancestral histories into a modern idiom. To this day, the Western Arrernte consider Namatjira’s style as their own, as if it embodies their collective identity and history of the place. His success is considered a milestone in Australian art and the beginning of the modern Aboriginal art movement.