Vincent Namatjira wins $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize 2019

AGSA Ramsay Prize Vincent Namatjira, Close Contact - photo by Grant HancockVincent Namatjira has been named the winner of the Ramsay Art Prize 2019 – Australia’s most generous prize for young people, with his work Close Contact.

“The Ramsay Art Prize sets out to elevate and accelerate careers of young contemporary Australian artists,” said Art Gallery of South Australia Director, Rhana Devenport ONZM. “Vincent Namatjira is at a pivotal point in his career and his work Close Contact represents a new way of working for him.”

The judges were unanimous in their appreciation of the work and feel that Namatijira’s bold new work represents the very essence of the Ramsay Art Prize, which is now in its second iteration.

Great-grandson of watercolourist Albert Namatjira, Vincent Namatjira lives and works in Indulkana in the A?angu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands of South Australia.

“Winning this prize means a lot to me and it will hopefully create more opportunities for me to continue to make more ambitious work and to share my practice with new audiences,” said Namatjira. “I also hope to use my position to create opportunities for other young artists in remote Indigenous communities.”

“I can honestly say that becoming an artist turned my life around and now I want to be a leader and a role-model for the next generation of young artists,” he added.

Close Contact is a double-sided portrait in acrylic paint on plywood. This work represents a new way of working for Vincent Namatjira, breaking away from the familiar and traditional wall-based painting on canvas.

The artist made preparatory drawings directly onto the plywood, working from life and from reference images, including E. Philips Fox’s painting Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770. The plywood figures were then cut out using a jigsaw before Namatjira made his trademark bold and lively application of paint.

Close Contact irreverently looks at colonisation and the idea of the heroic portrait. The title refers to the concept of ‘first contact’ between Indigenous Australians and Captain James Cook. Namatjira uses the double-sided painting as a strategy to explore the reversal of historical narratives of colonisation. Close Contact presents an unexpected conflation of past and present, coloniser and colonised, and the British invasion/discovery of Australia.

The winning work was selected by a panel of international and national contemporary art experts. Guest judge Russell Storer, Deputy Director (Curatorial and Research), National Gallery of Singapore said “Vincent’s work stood out for its directness and clarity, but also for its wit and complexity.”

“Close Contact is a startling self-portrait combining painting and sculpture, and as such represents a major shift in Vincent’s practice. Cook is represented as a persistent shadow of the artist showing how Indigenous and white Australia are inextricably linked by history, but also in the present. Vincent’s thumbs-up stance expresses resilience and humour, crucial strategies for resistance and survival,” said Storer.

Established in the name of South Australia’s leading cultural philanthropists James and Diana Ramsay, the Ramsay Art Prize is an important acquisitive art prize for contemporary Australian artists. Presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia and supported in perpetuity by the James & Diana Ramsay Foundation, the Ramsay Art Prize aims to inspire generation after generation of artists and art lovers.

“The Ramsay Art Prize embodies the values and vision of James and Diana’s legacy,” said Nick Ross, Chair of the Foundation. “It is a privilege to provide young artists with the opportunity to radically change their trajectory.’

All 23 finalists are also eligible for a People’s Choice Prize supported by sponsors Lipman Karas. This non-acquisitive cash prize of $15,000 is chosen by public vote and will be announced on 9 August 2019.

The Ramsay Art Prize 2019 was judged by a panel of leading contemporary art specialists –  Russell Storer, Deputy Director (Curatorial and Research), National Gallery of Singapore, Richard Lewer, contemporary artist, and Dr Lisa Slade, Assistant Director, Artistic Programs, Art Gallery of South Australia.

The Ramsay Art Prize 2019 exhibition runs from 25 May to 25 August at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Admission is free. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Installation view Ramsay Art Prize 2019 featuring a detail of Close Contact by Vincent Namatjira, Adelaide, South Australia – photo by Grant Hancock