Vincent Namatjira, Albert Namatjira, Magabala Books, August 2021, 32 pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781925936216
This picture book biography about Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira is written by his great-grandson, Vincent. Vincent is the first indigenous artist to have won the Archibald prize, which he did in 2020 with a portrait of Adam Goodes. However, Vincent has also painted a series of portraits of Albert which were acquired by the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art. Some of these are used as illustrations in this book.
Albert Namatjira was born in 1902 in the Northern Territory. He took up landscape painting after meeting Melbourne artist Rex Battarbee. Albert took Rex to beautiful places to paint and Rex taught Albert how to paint with water colours. Albert’s landscape paintings made him famous, and he received a medal from the Queen. A portrait of him by Sir William Dargie won the Archibald Prize. He was also the first Aboriginal to be granted Australian citizenship.
Many young readers may not know about this period of history when indigenous peoples did not have the same rights as other Australians. Trying to live between the two cultures was difficult for Albert, when he had rights as a citizen but members of his family did not. This book is therefore important in showing the social issues of the time. The text is understated, just expressing the facts, which makes it quite powerful.
It also reveals a lot about Vincent Namatjira, introducing his distinctive style of portraiture and giving a timeline of his artistic success, including the purchase of a portrait of Captain James Cook by the British Museum. His own life has not been easy and he now lives on APY lands in South Australia. He is very proud of his great-grandfather’s legacy, and it shines through in this book.
Reviewed by Lynne Babbage