Australia 1920 – 1987
Papunya, Western Desert, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint and natural earth pigments on composition board
Born at Walukuritji, south of Lake Macdonald, Shorty Lungkata Tjungurrayi was one of the last artists to join the Papunya painting group in 1971–72. Already a senior Pintupi ritual man by the time he got to Papunya, and a great dancer and hunter, Tjungurrayi experimented with a variety of styles from plain figurative imagery to more complex work that involved extensive dotting overlays. He also referenced Western Desert iconography used in body painting for ceremony and included in elaborate ritual ground paintings.
In this work, Tjungurrayi is experimenting with the layering of white dots as if to mask or subdue the presence of three major icons in the painting: the arabesque-like shapes painted in grey across the top, right and centre of the work. These icons do not conform to the traditional lexicon of desert designs, but the central shape has sets of U-shapes at three of its extremities—the U-shape normally indicates a person. Below the upper grey design is yet another in black, running laterally across the surface. These designs are juxtaposed with the orderly composition of a set of roundels that likely indicate specific places and camps in the artist’s country in the Gibson Desert.
The painting encapsulates an interplay of visual statements and erasure and, as it was painted at a time when Papunya artists were still discovering their new audiences, it is possibly symptomatic of the artist’s struggle to find a visual language suitable for a lay public while still retaining its cultural integrity.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010