Tjukurrtjanu TjukurrtjanuTjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art

NGV NGVNGV: 150 years Museum VictoriaMuseum Victoria Papanya Tula ArtistsPapanya Tula Artists

  • An NGV Touring Exhibition
  • 30 September 2011 – 12 February 2012
  • The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia,
  • Federation Square, Melbourne
  • 9 October 2012 – 20 January 2013
  • Musée du quai Branly, Paris

Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art examines a watershed moment in the history of art when a painting practice emerged at Papunya in Central Australia. Tjukurrtjanu gives prominence to 200 of the first paintings produced at Papunya between 1971 and 1972 and also establishes the vital connection between the works of art and their sources in ephemeral designs made for use in ceremony.

A collaboration between the NGV and Museum Victoria.
In partnership with Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd.

This website contains the names, images and works of Indigenous people who have passed away, which may cause distress to some Indigenous people.

Indigenous people from Central Australia and the Western Desert are advised that this exhibition contains culturally sensitive works that may be considered harmful or inappropriate for viewing by women or uninitiated members of their communities. Care has been taken to respect cultural protocols and, following a comprehensive consultation process, these works will be exhibited separately for the duration of the exhibition and will not be illustrated in the exhibition catalogue or displayed on this website.

Please note that some records contain terms and annotations that reflect the period in which the item was recorded, and may be considered inappropriate today in some circumstances.

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula (Pintupi/Luritja c.1925–2001)

By the winter of 1972 Warangkula had emerged as one of the most innovative and lyrical of an exceptional group of artists, a key participant who kept the atmosphere of the painting room alive with his guttural singing and infectious laughter. Working intensely with Kaapa, Tim Leura and Clifford Possum, he was one of a select group who explored the potential of their new media most fully, introducing veils of white dots to obscure and soften the key iconographic elements and in the process creating an ever shifting field to seduce the eye. (John Kean, 2011)

Johnny Warangkula was born at Mintjilpiri, in sandhill terrain 400 kilometres west of Alice Springs, where he spent his early years. He made his first contact with Europeans in 1930 when he and his family spotted the Mackay expedition accompanied by sixty camels. Warangkula's father led the family east in search of regular rations in 1932, reaching Mt Liebig, where they encountered the Adelaide University Scientific Expedition. The family continued on to Hermannsburg Mission where Warangkula was initiated, learnt his ancestral stories and commenced clearing an airstrip to service the mission.

He later worked on the construction of the Papunya settlement from the late 1950s when he would periodically visit his country, with the assistance of camels. On these hunting trips he developed a detailed knowledge of his ancestral sites Kampurarrpa, Kalipinypa and Tjikari.

Warangkula was serving on the Papunya Council when Geoffrey Bardon arrived in 1971 and when painting started at Papunya he soon made known his interest in joining the group. He gradually developed a unique style of overdotting, often of several layers, which represented a way of describing the burgeoning of vegetation after rain, most often at the major Water Dreaming site of Kalipinypa.

In 1978 Warangkula relocated to Ilpili, a site that he had left behind as a boy, a move that reinvigorated his painting practice. He was one of the first Papunya artists to encourage his wife Yawintji (Gladys) Napanangka to paint.

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula 1972
Pintupi/Luritja c.1925-2001
Photo © Allan Scott


  • EXHI015537
    Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula
    Pintupi/Luritja c.1925-2001
    Water Dreaming at Kalipinypa 1972
    synthetic polymer paint on composition board
    80.0 x 75.0 cm
    John and Barbara Wilkerson, New York, USA
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
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    Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula
    Pintupi/Luritja c.1925–2001
    A bush tucker story 1972
    synthetic polymer paint on composition board
    91.4 x 66.2 cm
    National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
    Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of North Broken Hill Ltd, Fellow, 1987
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
  • Ad100731

    This multi-layered and deeply personal collaborative work is visionary in its dimension and symphonic complexity, reaching out to encompass multiple Dreamings in a mythological topography. Perhaps, as Geoffrey Bardon suggested, Tim Leura was considering the course of his life while painting the epic canvas. Journeying through time as he paints, Tim Leura depicts conception and birth in the Possum country of Laramba through to his experience as a post-initiate witnessing malierra ceremonies, and his developing maturity as an artist who realised that his work would live on in a printed form.

    In an era when postmodernism was yet to find its feet in Australian art, Tim Leura incorporated in the work copies of three of his previous paintings, two of which had just been published by Bardon in the first monograph on the Western Desert art movement. The skeletal spirit figure perhaps represents Tim Leura's father in transition from the 'living world' into the Dreaming, conveying how time in the past is continuous with that of the present in Anmatyerr belief.

    Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula
    Pintupi/Luritja c.1925–2001
    Kampurarrpa 1974
    synthetic polymer paint on canvas
    168.5 x 330.6 cm
    National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
    Purchased from Admission Funds, 1985 (O.5-1985)
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists

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