South Australia’s Vincent Namatjira is the 2019 winner of the $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize with his doubled-sided portrait Close Contact.
Close Contact, Namatjira’s mischievous flip of the heroic portrayal of colonisation, was selected by a national and international panel of judges as the winning work of Australia’s richest young art prize ahead of 23 finalist works and more than 350 entries.
Now in its second year, the Ramsay Art Prize is open to Australian artists under the age of 40 working in any medium, and is presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia and supported by the James & Diana Ramsay Foundation. First held in 2017, the inaugural Ramsay winner was Sarah Contos with her work Sarah Contos Presents: The Long Kiss Goodbye. Earlier this month, Namatjira, who works out of the APY Lands community of Indulkana, told The Adelaide Review that Close Contact was inspired by E Phillip Fox’s painting Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770, which he viewed at the NGV the last time he was in Melbourne.
“This painting is a typical heroic representation of Cook, and the Indigenous Australians in the painting are off in the background, pretty much out of the picture,” he said. “So, when I was planning my work I was thinking, ‘What might be the flipside of the heroic portrait of Cook?’ I like the idea of an unexpected contact or conflict between past and present and that’s what I was thinking about with this work, and why I decided to experiment with the double-sided painting, trying to say, ‘There’s two sides to every story.’”
Inspired by cutout boards that invite tourists to place their heads into a painted scene for vacation snaps, Namatjira said Close Contact represented the main themes of his practice which are “to look at iconic figures and power structures in Australian history from a contemporary Indigenous perspective”.
“Close Contact also demonstrates a new approach for me with the double-sided sculptural painting. I wanted to put something bold and unexpected in the Ramsay Prize. I like the idea of the audience interacting with this work differently than they would to a wall-based painting – hopefully the work has an impact on everyone who sees it.”
Namatjira was also a finalist in the inaugural Ramsay Art Prize in 2017. The great-grandson of the late Albert Namatjira, Vincent’s own work has charted a radically different course to the celebrated landscapes of his grandfather, drawing on figures from politics and popular culture to international acclaim. When asked if the $100,000 would change his life and practice, Namatjira told us that it wouldn’t change his practice much.
“I’ll still be working every day at my art centre Iwantja Arts,” he said. “Winning the prize would be great recognition and exposure for my practice and would hopefully inspire the next generation of Indigenous artists from remote communities. I’m a leader in my community and I want young people to see that art can give you a voice, it can give you a purpose.
“I’ve got three daughters and my oldest daughter is about to turn 18 and finish school. I want my girls to have the opportunities that I never had at their age, so if I won the Ramsay Prize I’d be saving the money to go towards my daughters and my family.”
Close Contact will now be a permanent part of AGSA’s collection it will join the other Ramsay Art Prize finalist works as part of the 2019 Ramsay Art Prize exhibition at AGSA from Saturday, May 25 until Sunday, August 25.
Ramsay Art Prize 2019
Saturday, May 25 – Sunday, August 25
Courtesy of Iwantja Arts, Photo: Rhett Hammerton