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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

Vin­cent Na­matjira, Al­bert and Vin­cent (2014). Queens­land Art Gallery, Bris­bane. Gift of Dirk and Karen Zadra. On dis­play.

For the past five years, Vin­cent Na­matjira, de­scen­dant of renowned land­scape artist Al­bert Na­matjira, has been paint­ing idio­syn­cratic and of­ten witty por­traits of im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal fig­ures.

One of his por­traits, James Cook — with the Dec­la­ra­tion, was bought last year by the Bri­tish Mu­seum for its per­ma­nent col­lec­tion. It is on dis­play in Lon­don as part of the mu­seum’s In­dige­nous Australia: En­dur­ing Civil­i­sa­tion ex­hi­bi­tion, the first in Bri­tain de­voted to the his­tory and cul­ture of in­dige­nous Aus­tralians.

Be­sides Cook, Na­matjira’s other por­traits fea­ture mem­bers of the royal fam­ily, such as the Queen, Prince Wil­liam and the Duchess of Cam­bridge, Aus­tralian politi­cians such as Tony Ab­bott and John Howard, and his grand­fa­ther Al­bert.

Na­matjira be­gan paint­ing in 2011, en­cour­aged by his wife and fa­ther-in-law, who are both artists. He had early suc­cess last year when his first solo ex­hi­bi­tion at Mar­shall Arts in Ade­laide was pur­chased in its en­tirety by the Queens­land Art Gallery.

Na­matjira was born in 1983 in Alice Springs. As a child he lived at Her­manns­burg within Ntaria coun­try but his mother died when he was six, and he and his older sis­ter were sent to foster care in Perth.

When he turned 18, he and his sis­ter re­turned to Her­manns­burg to search for their fam­ily. While living there, he watched his aunt, a leader of the cel­e­brated Her­manns­burg Pot­ters, cre­ate art about their coun­try and the fam­ily le­gacy.

It wasn’t long be­fore Na­matjira was in­cor­po­rat­ing th­ese themes into his work. Of this le­gacy, he says: “I hope my grand­fa­ther would be quite proud, maybe smil­ing down on me be­cause I won’t let him go. I just keep car­ry­ing him on, his name and our fam­ily’s sto­ries.”

One of Na­matjira’s por­traits of him­self and his grand­fa­ther is on dis­play at the QAG, and when I visit Bris­bane I am shown the work by the gallery’s cu­ra­tor of in­dige­nous Aus­tralian art, Bruce McLean.

Al­bert and Vin­cent is the re­sult of the artist’s visit to QAG in May last year. He was keen to see Wil­liam Dargie’s 1956 por­trait of Al­bert Na­matjira, which won the Archibald Prize. Na­matjira spent many hours in the gallery, lean­ing a small mir­ror against a plinth so he could view and sketch him­self with the por­trait. He took the sketches home to re­mote cen­tral Australia and fin­ished the paint­ing there.

In the gallery, McLean has placed Al­bert and Vin­cent along­side the pic­ture that in­spired it, the Dargie por­trait.

As McLean and I stand be­fore the por­traits, he tells me Na­matjira first came to his at­ten­tion when he was a judge at the Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der Art Award in 2013.

“Vin­cent re­ally wanted to see the Dargie por-

trait, which he’d only seen in black and white re­pro­duc­tions and on the web­site, be­cause he has rarely been out­side the com­mu­ni­ties in cen­tral Australia,” McLean says.

“It was re­ally touch­ing to have him here and en­gag­ing with the work.

“When he first saw it, he ba­si­cally just smiled and stood in front of it. He also talked to gallery vis­i­tors about re­mem­ber­ing his grand­fa­ther to make sure that his story is kept alive and rel­e­vant, as a very rel­e­vant cul­tural story for the fam­ily. He has been work­ing with coun­try and com­mu­nity to re­vi­talise that his­tory and le­gacy.

“Vin­cent is a very witty and of­ten sub­ver­sive artist. He is re­ally in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing pol­i­tics but also look­ing at peo­ple and his­tory through por­trai­ture. It has been a plea­sure to watch him grow as an artist of no­table im­por­tance, one of the younger ris­ing stars of paint­ing in cen­tral Australia.”

Syn­thetic poly­mer paint on linen; 120cm x 100cm

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