For people of the Western Desert the Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) is the very foundation of their being. This active life force informs their spiritual and social identity. It is established out of a vast series of complex narratives that describe the actions and events of the ancestors who entered into and became the land, its plants, animals and people. It is from this period of creation, embodying past, present and future, that Western Desert peoples inherit their highly organised system of kinship, language, ceremonies and ritual law, which remains strong.
Tjukurrtjanu (from the Dreaming)
The powerful iconographic language and philosophy of Western Desert art is tjukurrtjanu (from the Dreaming). The designs and images express the artists' intimate connection with men's ritual, special places in their country and the Tjukurrpa.
The title identifies this painting within the corpus of works associated with the Old Man's Dreaming. This ancestral being, yina who travelled from Kampurarrnga in the Henty Hills, through Ngurrapalangu and Yumari and on westwards – traversing almost precisely the plains area through which Pintupi people moved back and forth in pre-contact times. The ‘Old Man’ is known particularly for having had intercourse with a tabooed category of relative, his ‘mother-in-law’ at Yumari, ‘mother-in-law’ place, for which transgression he suffered an attack of ants on his penis. There are, of course, many distinctive sites on the Old Man’s path. This painting is connected to the site area of Yumari, but not so much to the rockhole itself. The figure in the upper left corner is likely the Old Man himself. The meandering black line below him connected to a concentric circle in the lower left corner is the mark left by him dragging his penis towards the mother-in-law’s vagina, a feature of the rock outcropping. In the centre of the painting, the six oblong features probably represent the ‘standing rocks’ that stand to the south of the Yumari rockhole – a formation called Tilirrangarranya (light the fire and stand) where the Old Man stood by the fire and decorated himself the morning after. This feature was often represented in the overt form of ritual objects in early paintings.
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.
Warlugulong is the first of a series of collaborative works by Clifford Possum and Tim Leura that thoroughly explores the map-like potential of a large canvas and brings together complex, interwoven narratives within an evocation of ancestral geography. Its title refers to the site of Warlukurlangu, which lies about thirty kilometres south of Yuendumu, where a great ancestral fire began. Lungkata, the Blue-tongue Lizard Man, had rested at this site. His two sons following behind, speared a kangaroo, cooked it, and greedily ate it all. The father sensed what had happened and determined to punish them. He blew on a firestick until it glowed, then touched it to a bush. The bush exploded into flame, as the painting illustrates, then burnt everything in its path and soon the two brothers were fighting the flames. Far to the south they perished, going into the ground as the bushfire lost its fury and died.