Seeing the centre
The art of Albert Namatjira 1902–1959
The animate void: gaps and gorges
The perpendicular walls of the narrow Standley Chasm Angkale are a popular subject for many visiting artists. It was a familiar part of Albert Namatjira's country and he painted it many times.
Namatjira was well aware that it is only when the sun is directly overhead that the iron-rich walls of the gorge are in full light. He depicted them in different lights and from different angles. In some paintings flickering shadows appear to unite background and foreground, where the red-brown walls of the gorge and the purple rocky face behind, fill the frame. Yet, in Standley Chasm c 1942-49, which introduces the skyline, a different viewpoint establishes a separation between these entities. Light floods into the further recesses of the gorge, and the red walls appear almost like curtains on a stage, framing an inner enclosure.
Namatjira also painted Standley Chasm as it is approached from a vast distance. From this viewing point, it is seen simply as one of the numerous gaps that are a characteristic feature of the MacDonnell Ranges Tywerentye. Other locations that he repeatedly painted there were Simpson's Gap Runutjirba and Heavitree Gap Ntaripe.
Cultural historian and landscape writer John Brinkerhoff Jackson, believes that 'no landscape can be comprehended unless we perceive it as an organisation of space: [and] ask ourselves who owns it or uses the spaces, how they were created and how they change'. His words are particularly relevant when considering possible interpretations of Namatjira's paintings which depict country that is both a 'sight' (formal landscape) and a 'site' (sacred place).
Albert Namatjira Standley Chasm c 1942-49 Collection of Dr Beverley Castleman, Melbourne
Banner: Albert Namatjira Mount Sonder, MacDonnell Ranges c 1957-59 (detail) National Gallery of Australia, Canberra