Australia 1918 /1922 – 2001
Travelling Water Dreaming with Lightning
Papunya, Western Desert, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, natural earth pigments and boncrete on composition board
Seven early works from the Papunya movement were acquired earlier this year, including five paintings on board and the first and only two Papunya shields to enter the national art collection—one by Uta Uta Tjangala and another by Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri. Two of the boards that were acquired are fine representatives of the exceptional quality and strong cultural connections Papunya artists have to their Country.
Travelling Water Dreaming with lightning 1971 by Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula, an emerging artist at the time, displays the artist’s detailed knowledge of the major Water Dreaming site of Kalipinypa in his Country. The black lines that swirl and strike across the board, the singular white dots spotted throughout the work and the finer white dots outlining the black lines all combine to show the creative power and energy that the lightening Ancestor Winpa uses to create storms. The subtle green background also hints at the resurgence of vegetation after these big rains, turning the deep red lands shades of green.
Corroboree and body decoration 1972 is an example of Kaapa Mbitjana Tjampitjinpa’s early work revealing the ceremonial body and corroboree designs of his Anmatyerre, Warlpiri and Arrernte peoples. The work depicts a torso with multiple red lines running along the neckline, chest, arms and sides, down toward the legs. The intricacies of the white lines, with their repetitive geometric ceremonial designs, further accentuate the major body design, with the black underlay representing the body. Combined, the elements of this stunning work create an energised, mesmerising effect of movement.
With these newly acquired works, the National Gallery of Australia now holds eighty-one works by artists from the remote Papunya community in the Northern Territory, including seventy-nine paintings on board and two painted shields. In 1971, school teacher Geoffrey Bardon encouraged the men at Papunya to paint their cultural designs and stories, which resulted in the significant Honey Ant mural being painted on the local school wall that year. The Papunya Tula Artists Company was formed in late 1972 and is, to this day, solely owned and directed by the artists of the community.
The first Papunya work acquired by the Gallery was Old Mick Tjakamarra’s 1973 work Honey Ant Dreaming. It was purchased in 1980, less than a decade after Papunya was recognised by the Western world as the first Aboriginal art movement—despite the designs, associated stories and ceremonies being practised by the community for thousands of years. Tjakamarra was a custodian of the Honey Ant Dreaming and, with others from the community, he had contributed to the mural of 1971.
The second of the Gallery’s Papunya boards was not acquired until nine years later, in 1989. The work was David Corby Tjapaltjarri’s Budgerigar Dreaming, which was also painted around 1973. This acquisition was quickly followed by another seven in the same year and later by another twenty-one works in 1993. Then, in 1998, a significant collection of forty-one works were acquired as part of the Peter Fannin collection of early Western Desert paintings, adding greatly to the Gallery’s growing collection of Papunya works.
Since then, numerous works from the movement have been acquired and today the Gallery’s significant Papunya collection, acquired over the past thirty-three years, shows the commitment to acquiring and showcasing the best of the works by these senior male artists of Australia’s first Aboriginal art movement.
Tina Baum Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art
in artonview, issue 76, Summer 2013