Rex states that in 1940 (before the influx of US military servicemen) he became interested in Richard as an artist with outstanding drawing ability.
On a painting trip (by camel) Richard accompanied Rex (probably helping with the camels): ‘I used with Richard my method of encouragement without teaching. On this trip he painted some good watercolours which showed a lot of original primitive quality.’
During another camel trip with Rex and Albert in September 1941. Rex commented that… Richard came back this morning with the boys again; he did some painting today and quite a good Illumba [allumba] this afternoon… Richard was afraid Albert would laugh at his poor effort, but Albert said he would not. Rex commented on Richard’s ‘best effort of trip so far as he likes colour and seems to put it in the modern state’. Colour and design seems to be his big points ‘but he does not stick to nature the way Albert and I do’.
Richard found his own way with some guidance from Rex. Richard painted occasionally in 1941 but did not start to paint seriously until 1947. The author’s twenty-one paintings by Richard were made between 1947/48 and the 1970s and many of the dates are estimated by the author. His wife Gloria completed only a few paintings in the early 1950s.
Richard retained a more traditional ‘look’ in his painting than most of the other artists. He was the only artist known by the author to present a painting for sale with the wood frame decorated by traditional and cross cultural symbols in black pokerwork, apparently drawn by him. The painting and its frame comprised a unique concept of the watercolour portrayal of a particular part of a location, surrounded by a frame, which both set off the picture and also depicted various attributes of the area.
All of Richard’s paintings employed parallels as part of his system and most have dots for infill and decoration. He balanced the blandness of sky often with areas, which were not in-filled in the main part of the same painting, such as white tree trunks. A few paintings display his love of parallels prominently. Parallels are a characteristic of traditional Arrernte decoration on implements such as boomerangs and show considerable cultural pride. Also, many of his paintings employ zigzag marks in addition to parallels to invigorate his designs.
Spencer and Gillen, 1927, Fig 232  has a photograph of ceremonial men ready for a rain dance or corroboree with the central man wearing a tall headdress with a prominent zigzag motif.
Significantly, Richard Moketarinja possibly preceded Edwin Pareroultja in breaking away from the style of Albert Namatjira in 1941 or 1942. Richard appears to have been the likely author of Mt Hermannsburg c 1940 illustrated as Figure 4.24 in Heritage of Namatjira. Figure 4.24 is stated to be by Otto Pareroultja, although it is unsigned and bears no characteristics of Otto’s approach when he started to paint many years later. This painting is in Flinders University Art Museum and was examined by the author.
In 1948 the urge to paint came uppermost and he spent the whole of 1948 in painting. In Battarbee’s opinion, of the Hermannsburg artists Richard improved the most during 1948. Writing in 1949, Rex also considered that ‘because of his originality and force of character he is not likely to be influenced by other artists.’
The earliest painting identified as by Richard Moketarinja is James Range, 1947 (watercolour on paper; 21 x 37.5 cm (irreg.); Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory NAM-0163). This interpretation concerns the interior of a gorge. Like the earlier painting described above, this employs yellow topped cliffs with dot/blob marks to suggest trees.
The next known painting by Richard is in the author’s collection.