Home » Artist Vincent Namatjira defends work amid controversy over portrait featuring Gina Rinehart

Artist Vincent Namatjira defends work amid controversy over portrait featuring Gina Rinehart

The artist at the centre of a controversy over his portrait collection that features mining magnate Gina Rinehart has defended his art, saying he “paints the world as he sees it”. 

Archibald Prize winner Vincent Namatjira released a statement on Thursday responding to reports Australia’s richest woman had requested the removal of his portrait from the National Portrait Gallery, where it is currently being displayed.

The exhibit, titled Australia In Colour, features Rinehart alongside prominent figures such as Cathy Freeman, Adam Goodes, Scott Morrison, Julia Gillard, King Charles and many more. 

In Namatjira’s typical style, the portrait is an exaggerated depiction of all of the subjects’ features, including Ms Rinehart’s.

Archibald Prize winner Vincent Namatjira says not everyone has to like his art.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

“I paint the world as I see it,” he said.

“People don’t have to like my paintings, but I hope they take the time to look and think, ‘why has this Aboriginal bloke painted these powerful people? What is he trying to say?’.

“I paint people who are wealthy, powerful, or significant – people who have had an influence on this country, and on me personally, whether directly or indirectly, whether for good or for bad.

“Some people might not like it, other people might find it funny, but I hope people look beneath the surface and see the serious side too.”

Ms Rinehart has not publicly commented on the painting, and the ABC has contacted her company Hancock Prospecting for comment

The National Portrait Gallery has not not confirmed there was a request to remove the artwork, but a spokesperson said it “welcomes the public having a dialogue on our collection and displays”.

“Since 1973, when the National Gallery acquired Jackson Pollock’s Blue poles, there has been a dynamic discussion on the artistic merits of works in the national collection, and/or on display at the gallery.

“We present works of art to the Australian public to inspire people to explore, experience and learn about art.”

Members of the art community have thrown support behind Namatjira.  

The monograph featring portaits of Cathy Freeman, King Charles, Ned Kelly, Gina Rinehart

The monograph, titled Australia in Colour, is a collection of paintings of powerful people, said Namatjira. (AAP)

The National Association of Visual Arts executive director Penelope Benton said: “Freedom of Expression is a universal human right highly valued by artists.”

“Artistic expression is a fundamental aspect of Australian cultural life and it must include the freedom to exhibit, perform or distribute works that may be unpopular, shocking, or disturbing,’ Benton continued.

‘While Rinehart has the right to express her opinions about Namatjira’s work, NAVA emphasises that exerting pressure on the gallery for removal of the painting simply because she dislikes it, sets a dangerous precedent for censorship and the stifling of creative expression.”

Guardian cartoonist Fiona Katasukas told the ABC’s The World Today the portrait is an artistic interpretation. 

“If you go through his collection of work it doesn’t stand out as being offensive or odd, it’s part of his style, Scomo is in there, that’s not flattering, same with Gillard,” she said. 

Art critic John McDonald said there’s not much someone wanting to remove a portrait of themselves can do. 

“Fundamentally it’s a work of satire and it’s impervious to these complaints,” he told The World Today.

“If we start complaining about satire politicians would be always complaining about every cartoon, if you put yourself up there, a public figure because she’s always had something to say, she likes to exert influence, you’ve got to learn to take it.”

The portrait was previously on display in the Art Gallery of South Australia and first debuted in 2021.

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