One of Australia’s best known artists, Albert Namatjira’s landscape paintings are iconic images synonymous with the Australian outback. His vivid watercolours express his deep familiarity with the desert country around Hermannsburg (Ntaria), particularly the Arrernte lands around the Western MacDonnell Ranges, for which he was a traditional custodian. Through his intense scrutiny of specific places and his sensitive response to their individual qualities, Namatjira enables the viewer to see the Centre as a multi-faceted region of Australia.
He portrays a land in which light and distance are the key factors that shape perception, fragment forms and transform colour. He also developed a rich repertoire of compositional devices to express his experience of being in this world, often framing his views with the strong vertical forms of gum trees. These also represent the presence and absence of water, which is the source of much of the diversity of visual forms and motifs that engaged Namatjira throughout his painting career. Many of the giant ghost gums that appear in his compositions tap into the ground water that lies beneath the dry riverbed of the Finke River, which connects a string of waterholes between Ormiston Gorge and the edge of the Simpson Desert to the south-east.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010