Seeing the centre
The art of Albert Namatjira 1902–1959

Introduction | Discoveries | Light | Transformations | Animate | Sights | Intimate | Saplings | Looking | Bibliography | Gallery of works

Light on Ljalkaindirma (Mount Hermannsburg):
the shifting shadow

Ljalkaindirma (Mount Hermannsburg) presents a complex juxtaposition of coloured shadows. Namatjira's early paintings of the mountain rely on alternate placement of light and dark areas within broad, relatively flat shapes, to establish the effect of the sun in defining its unique topography and enclosing folds. Later works go on to explore the complex ways in which light both shapes and dissolves three-dimensional form. Namatjira achieves this through the introduction of linear patterns that intersect as they curve around the mountain's perimeters and sweep down its slopes to establish the illusion of shadows.

Some paintings of this subject take their viewpoint from the craggy bluffs facing Mount Hermannsburg that look sharply down on the sand bed of the Lhere pirnte (Finke River). Others appear to confront the mountain from a position closer to the riverbed. In these works, Namatjira's interest would lie either in the meeting of the slopes around valleys that lie beneath the long curve, or in the saddle that appears to unite the main peaks silhouetted against the sky. He sometimes moves closer into the scene, especially in distances where he places a ghost gum in the foreground. It is rare, however, for the artist to move backwards to view the range from a vast distance, from where its unique qualities would dissipate. When depicting isolated peaks such as Rutjipma (Mount Sonder), Atila (Mount Connor) and Central Mount Wedge, which all rise as clear entities from the plains that surround them, Namatjira's interest is less on the shifting shadow and more on profile.

Albert Namatjira Mt Hermannsburg Finke River c 1946-51 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Banner: Albert Namatjira Mount Sonder, MacDonnell Ranges c 1957-59 (detail) National Gallery of Australia, Canberra