In Australia, most of the indigenous communities were the semi-nomadic, lived in the semi-permanent villages and moved back in a defined territory in a seasonal cycle of the year. James Cook who claimed that his expedition was the most successful one under the Royal Navy of England in 1770, named the east coast of Australia as New South Wales and declared it in the name of United Kingdom and from this onwards, the European expedition had taken a stage that is more massive (Clark 2012). Due to continuous settlements in Australia where many indigenous people lived who were spiritually connected with the land, sea and natural resources, were removed by the Europeans. Along with that, venereal disease, substance abuse, violence, war and employment of the indigenous people as a non-paid workers were the consequences of the European colonialism in Australia (Bashford, Alison and Stuart 2013). Due to European colonialism, the indigenous culture had broken down and the communities were fragmented as their culture, land and population were exploited.
Albert Namatjira who was most famous Australian aboriginal artist is considered as the pioneer of contemporary indigenous Australian art (Robert 2013). His art departed significantly from the traditional style of indigenous art, which were mainly abstract symbols and design based. He inspired the Hermannsburg School of painting, which was begun at Hermannsburg Mission, located in central Australia and an art movement in 1930s (Robert 2013). The known and most famous face of this art movement was Albert Namatjira and this movement combined the Western style of the landscape painting in watercolor with the Australian natural scenes (Hyland 2013).
Primarily, before this movement, the concept of art of the indigenous people in Australia was deeply related with ceremonies and western Arrente people in which Namatjira would belong used art in the ceremonial sense (Aitken, Wendy and Christopher 2017). They have used symbols to express their specific dreaming and topographical interpretation and it conveyed the deep spiritual connection with the land and its resources. Early works of the Namatjira would also represent the sense of the spiritual connection with the indigenous land (Robert 2013). Due to European intervention, the indigenous people had lost their cultural integrity and land. The deep spiritual connection of the indigenous people was broken down. A sense of lost indigenous style was seen in the painting of the Albert Namantjira and the Hermannsburg School of painting in a way that the subject or theme of their painting remained as the rural landscape of Australia, however, the style of painting and medium were changed hugely and influenced by the European style of watercolor application.
Manatjira was deeply moved by the painting of Rex Batterbee and John gardner and his distinctive style of painting began after visiting an exhibition by these two artists in 1930s (Edmond 2013). Through this painting exhibition, Namatjira was exposed to the western style of painting. However, he had a great respect and love for his land that is seen in his works. The subject of his painting was Australia’s landscape and rural beauty; however, he borrowed the style from the west and incorporated it into his painting (Hyland 2013). The amalgamation of indigenous theme and western style of watercolor and landscape painting made his painting distinctive from the traditional painting of Australia.
The expression of Namatjira’s painting carried the massage of change and transformation. The time when Namatjira started painting, the indigenous history of Australia was already influenced by the British. The culture and population of the indigenous people had broken down in large extent. The disease like small pox, malaria and other sexually transmitted diseases largely affected the indigenous Australians’ way of life (Clark 2012). The other influence was the settler industry, which transformed the source of livelihood of the indigenous population. Most of the indigenous communities were dependent on the settlers for their livelihood.
Namatjira started painting when the life of the indigenous population of Australia had already started to adapt this change caused by the intervention of British. Most of his paintings carry the expression of this change. As the social, political and spiritual life of the indigenous population had transformed in great extent, the art or painting was compelled to accept that change (Bashford and Stuart 2013). Namantjira’s painting accepted that change and for the amalgamation that became the essence of Namatjira’s panting made him extraordinary from rest of the Australians. His paintings were accepted worldwide and fame led him and his wife to become the first aborigines to be granted Australian citizenship. It was as significant as anything from the perspective of the time was as at that time the aborigines had very limited rights. However, the granted citizenship of the Namatjira was the first step for allowing similar rights to the aboriginal people in Australia. The colonial government took ten years to grant similar rights for the rest of the indigenous population (Robert 2013).
Albert Namantjira’s life and painting inspired the other aboriginals to paint. Among them were his children and his grandchildren. Namatjira also inspired Hermannsburg School of painting. The Hermannsburg painting movement followed the similar style of painting of Namatjira, like western style of landscape in watercolor with Australian outback (Aitken, Wendy and Christopher 2017). As like Namatjira, the Hermannsburg School of painting shifted the major direction of the Australian aboriginal painting. They had also started to use watercolor and landscape painting in their artworks. Even the works produced by the artists of the Hermannsburg School were accessible to the collectors who were also familiar with the western-style of landscape. The aboriginal communities were beneficial as the new form of artworks were one of the successful economic models for the aboriginal communities.
Strange mixture of aboriginal culture and influences from the west shaped the life and painting of Namatjira. Namatjira was born in 1902 and at the age of 34, he took painting seriously. He was born as Christian and his name was Elea Namatjira. However, at the age of three, his parents moved to Hermannsburg Mission. At this time, he was baptized and he got his new name (Robert 2013). At the age of 13, Namatjira experienced with an aboriginal ritual, which is initiation. Because of this experience, Namatjira spent six months in the bush and learnt about traditional customs and laws. He also worked as a camel driver and that helped him to travel throughout the country, which would influence on his later painting. By observing the life of Namatjira, it could be said that his life was hugely influenced by both the indigenous way of life as well as inspiration from the colonizers. His works reflect these influences.
By combining the profound ancestral link to the Arrente country and the community’s drawing competence in representing grandness of own country and the influence of the European art style, Albert Namatjira and the Hermannsburg School that he motivated to paint following his style had an influential effect across Australia (Hyland 2013). These recognizable qualities of the aboriginals of their artworks provided an unparallel perspective of the land and its natural beauties, which created one of the first bridges in between the Australian aboriginals and the western cultures. Namatjira's distinctive purple and deep blue shadows of the Mount Hermannsburg, the blackish deep red of Glen Helen Gorge and Standley Chasm, the white trunks of red gums and ghost gums have inscribe their mode into deep down psyche of the Australians in a way that the true nature of the land became real (Mendelssohn 2014).
Aitken, Wendy, and Christopher Wareham. "The narratives of Albert Namatjira." Australian Aboriginal Studies 1 (2017): 56.
Bashford, Alison, and Stuart Macintyre, eds. The Cambridge History of Australia. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Clark, Manning. A History Of Australia Vol 1&2: Volumes 1 & 2. Melbourne Univ. Publishing, 2012.
Edmond, Martin. "Double lives: Rex Battarbee and Albert Namatjira." (2013).
Hyland, Anna. "Remembering Namatjira." EMAJ Electronic Melbourne Art Journal 7, no. 1 (2013): 1-19.
Mendelssohn, Joanna. "When the wind changed:'Albert Namatjira'at the Araluen arts centre, Alice springs, 1984." Art Monthly Australia 273 (2014): 54.
Source Wikipedia. Australian Aboriginal Artists: Ada Andy Napaltjarri, Albert Namatjira, Anatjari... University-Press Org, 2013