Time Out spotlights ‘Desert Songs’ by celebrated portraitist Vincent Namatjira

7 Oct 2023

Desert Songs delves into the profound themes of leadership, power, and legacy, exploring the artist’s deeply personal history through portraits of influential figures who have impacted his life in the realms of art, music, and politics. Namatjira’s choice of colourful palette infuses a sense of humour and wit in his works, but he emphasises a deeper layer that is present:

“There’s also the serious side when you look deep into the painting, and especially with the portraits. When I put someone on the canvas, it kind of takes away some of their power, whether it’s a royal figure or a government figure, a world leader […] They need to be at the same level as the rest of the world, and that’s why I like to put some funny sense of something in, like a cup of tea, McDonald’s or whatever.”

Namatjira probes the complex colonial narratives implicit in Australia’s relationship with the Empire from a contemporary Aboriginal perspective  – this commentary holds particular significance with the impending referendum in the country, where Namatjira confidently states that he will be voting “Yes.”

In Namatjira’s words to Arts and Culture Editor Alannah Le Cross, “If you pick up a paintbrush, it can change lives and also change the world.”

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