Friday, February 27, 2009

Namatjira POI #1

There aren't many painters or art critics who would have claimed that Namatjira was original or innovative. It's not possible, nor fair to read and comment on his painting through western eyes and standards, measures, scales and ideas about what is or is not high art. The notion of the 'noble savage' has been digested, and is long become dust. Namatjira has been the impetus for social, anthropological and ethical debate for three generations now, there are a million opinions and many, many volumes written relating to his life and relationships to his own people, europeans and the art of Australia.

This was a fairly direct attempt at a portrait of Albert Namatjira that I did back in 2003. As I mentioned in the previous post; he was the first watercolourist I was introduced to as a kid. It was his watercolour landscapes of the Western MacDonnells that sparked my lifelong interest in the medium. His was delicate and sensitive touch which is in keeping with the traditional art of the Arrente.
He has a pretty tragic story of being missionized and introduced to grog by the white fellas and then jail for drinking related social misdemeanours.


Blogger Sandy Maudlin said...

So good to see your work here again. It's gorgeous and I love it.

February 27, 2009 at 6:29 PM  
Blogger David Burge said...

Hey Sandy, thanks for your presence! I have enormous respect for you as a very fine watercolourist.

February 27, 2009 at 8:08 PM  
Blogger Clive said...

I live a sheltered life...I've got to look this guy up. Also love the small sketches below from your new home in A S's.

March 2, 2009 at 7:05 AM  
Blogger William K. Moore said...

Soft touch with heavy hitting impact - what a portrait! Love the color transitions and your mastery of edges - once again. It's good to have heroes and other motive forces acting as an incentive for change and improvement. One reason my library is filled with personal favorite painters and writers. I enjoy viewing this work of one of your heroes David -

March 2, 2009 at 9:27 AM  
Blogger David Burge said...

Hey Clive, Don't worry mate, not being aware of Namatjira is not unusual outside of Australia.
Even within the Australian art community many are not aware of his life and those that are deny it:)
His watercolours are immediately recognisable which contradicts what critics have written about him.

Cheers Bill, I think I've painted two artists in 20 years. I'd be difficult to find two more diverse characters.
The hyper-schnozelled oft controversial british Art Nouveau artist Aubrey Beardsley and Namatjira.
Both oddities in different ways.
Will post Beardsley next for amusement.
It'd be a slight exaggeration to claim either of them as personal "heros" though.
Lets call them 'persons of interest'

March 2, 2009 at 7:22 PM  
Blogger perugina said...

Extraordinarily beautiful in handling David una sensitivita` enorme che mi colpisce - a sensitivity which strikes me.

March 3, 2009 at 3:50 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

I remember this, a truly bizarre portrait in the best sense of the word. It's unfinished by the standards of your average painter, but it's all said with an economy of strokes and essentials. It also captures the man's startling appearance and ancestry. As I believe he was your introduction to watercolor, it is fitting you found a place for him in the personal gallery.

March 4, 2009 at 11:15 AM  
Blogger David Burge said...

G'day Patricia, thank you for use of Italian in your comment.
The inclusion of the romantic languages is something I'd like to encourage more visitors to use. It does something for the quality of a blog I think :-)

Hiya Nick, It is a bit bizarre I suppose. Never thought of it as bizarre before, but then I never really believed it was properly finished either, and felt it was always kind of ghostly but couldn't think of anything else to do with it, so that it!
It's taboo for indigenous people to see a picture of a deceased person, if I was politically correct I'd have a warning before opening it, but I'm not I'm afraid. And what's more I doubt anyone would see much of a likeness to AN in the painting.

March 5, 2009 at 6:41 AM  
Blogger wayne said...

Hi David,
Sorry for a slightly delayed comment here on your brilliant and spare watercolour portrait of Albert Namatjira. I really find it refreshingly innovative how you've actually emphasised the light-shadow transition-zone of the facial features to create a sharply defined kind of 'penumbral sihouette'- a visual paradox. Whilst managing this feat, you've simultaneously achieved a good likeness yet without the need for ancillary washes or glazes to create a tonal allusion to 3D. To me, this innovative approach to the 2D rendering of light upon 3D facial form/features makes this a captivating image to look at that holds the attention. The hard-edged junction between light and shade seems to resonate with the notion of cultural-contrast confronting the Arrente. To his great credit Namatjira was able to very quickly and successfully adapt to the ('European') watercolour medium and, from his brush, flowed a distinctive style of watercolour painting (that i remember so vividly —among the very first watercolours i saw). What left an indelible impression on me was the luminous light and the deft confident brushwork, the latter often displaying distinctive as well as subtle rhythms of the landscape.

(Hope the weather is getting milder now in the Alice..) cheers,

March 17, 2009 at 3:36 PM  
Blogger David Burge said...

Wayne, Thank you for your sensitive, perceptive response to this watercolour. The reality of a crisp divide between Arrente and Western culture is undeniable.
The crisp edge is respected and is very much one of the reasons that Alice Springs thrives as one of the great multilingual communities in the world. There are some 20 languages being spoken amongst the indigenous tribes who use Alice Springs as a big meeting place.
In that sense the place is a very interesting and lively one. As I'm sure you're well aware English is very much a second.....or fifth language up here

Speaking of crisp edges; That distinctly whitewashed Lutheran church at Hermannsburg where Albert learnt the 'whitefella' ways always reminds me of that crisp edge too.

He started a school of wetermedia painting which is being passed down the generations much the same way as traditional Arrente art. Key features of the of the Hermannsberg School is a reverence to the Arrente Lands, certainty of brushwork and the upholding of transparency in keeping with the brilliance of the light out here. I doubt that there is more recognizable and sustained school of watercolour around.

March 17, 2009 at 8:39 PM  

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