The Guardian: ‘I see myself as a royal’– Vincent Namatjira on colonialism, satire and his great-grandfather’s legacy

19 Oct 2023

Walter Marsh from The Guardian covers Desert Songs, Vincent Namatjira OAM’s debut presentation with the Gallery.

Namatjira has won some of Australia’s most high-profile art awards, from his Cook-inspired Ramsay Art Prize in 2019 to his Archibald-winning portrait of the AFL footballer Adam Goodes in 2020 and has also been awarded an Order of Australia medal.

“I’ve become rocketing,” the artist tells Guardian Australia. “Before I ever picked up a paintbrush, I was just a normal Aboriginal fella. And here I am today, popping up everywhere – it’s completely changed my life.” Highlighting Namatjira’s background prior to his career as an artist and knowledge of his ancestral connection to Albert Namatjira (1902-59), one of the most well-known Aboriginal painters in the 20th-century Australia. “At that time, I didn’t know that I was related to this well-known artist,” he says. “And I never met the guy.”

However, both great-grandson and great-grandfather reflect familiar influences in their works, touching on political themes in Australia. The image of the elder Namatjira has loomed large in Vincent Namatjira’s works since 2012, but he has never sought to imitate his ancestor’s recognizable style. “We have both had to fill our legacies,” he states. “I want the audience to see my work and my name, Vincent Namatjira, with the work of modern art – more portraits, figurative. It’s colourful and bold.”

Namatjira often describes his works as a form of weaponry, featuring recognizable figures with worldwide influences. Despite moments of levity, there’s a subversive edge informed by his experiences within the systems governed by powerfhe exhibition’s title alludes to “the blue skies, the red deserts, the green hills, the yellow fields, the blue oceans, the white sands, the creek beds” in the backdrop of Vincent’s portraits. However, it also serves as a more visceral reflection on a continent thrown into stark contrast.

Vincent Namatjira’s success has reshaped the legacy of the name “Namatjira,” forging his own distinct path from his great-grandfather’s.

“To choose. He chose his own path. Well, I choose mine.”

Image: Vincent Namatjira in his studio, photo by Rhett Hammerton. Courtesy of the artist and Iwantja Arts.