Collection: Walala Tjapaltjarri

DOB: c1960
Born: East of Kiwirrkurra, WA
Language Group: Pintupi
Community: Kiwirrkurra, WA

Tjapaltjarri was born in the late 1960s or early 1970s. He was born at Marua, near Lake Mackay. He grew up living a nomadic, traditional way of life in the desert. His family had never come into contact with modern, Euro-Australian society. He had never seen a white person, and his family always thought the aeroplanes they saw flying overhead were ghosts or spirits.Before Tjapaltjarri was born, his father Lanti had lived for a short time at the mission in Balgo. But he had run away after getting into trouble for stealing food. It was his decision to stay in the desert, and kept his family far away from the towns. Tjapaltjarri’s mother was named Watjunka, and he was Watjunka’s only child. He also had two other mothers, Papunya and Nanu, who were his father’s secondary wives (and his mother’s sisters). His father and Watjunka both died when he was young. The family finally came into contact with outsiders in October 1984, and were settled at Kiwirrkurra. He and his family became known as the last Aborigines living a traditional nomadic way of life in Australia.

He is now married with two children, and lives between Kiwirrkura, Alice Springs, and Yuendumu, where his wife is from.

Tjapaltjarri began painting in December 1987, a few years after settling at Kiwirrkurra. He was introduced to painting by his cousin Warlimpirrnga. He taught Tjapaltjarri about using paints and canvas. Tjapaltjarri joined the Papunya Tula artists, and he, Thomas and Warlimpirrnga eventually gained fame internationally as the Tjapaltjarri Brothers. Although he normally paints using Tjapaltjarri as a surname, Tjapaltjarri’s skin name is Tjapangati.

His paintings depict scenes from the Tingari cycle (sacred and secret songs about the ancestors of the Pintupi). He uses only four colours at most, sticking to earthy, ochre colours to reflect the desert landscape. The places he depicts in his paintings are part of his traditional country, including Marruwa, Mintarnpi, Wanapatangu, Mina Mina, Naami, Yarrawangu and Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay).

These were places where the ancestors stopped for ceremonies when travelling across the country. Tjapaltjarri uses acrylic paintings on canvas. His early work was in the flowing “dot” style of painting typical of the Papunya Tula artists. His style became different during the late 1990s, and began to paint rigid rectangles, replacing dotted lines with thick, solid lines.

His first exhibition was in 1997, for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in Darwin. Most of his work is shown in exhibitions alongside the works of other Aboriginal artists. He has paintings in permanent collections in Australia, Europe and the United States. Tjapaltjarri paints the most out of the three Tjapaltjarri brothers. When painting regularly, he earns up to AU$2000 a day. His paintings often sell for many thousands of dollars.

Group Exhibitions:
‘The Art of Place Exhibition’, Australian Heritage Commission, National Tour
2000 ‘Walala Tjapatjarri and Dr George Tjapaltjarri’, Cooee Aboriginal Art Gallery, Sydney, NSW.
2000 ‘Songlines: Walala Tjapaltjarri & Dorothy Napangardi ‘, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London, England
2000 ‘My Country – Journeys of our Ancestors’ Ancient Earth Indigenous Art, Cairns, QLD.
2000 ‘Lines’, Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane, QLD
2000 ‘Landmarks Exhibition’, Dar Festival, Brisbane Powerhouse, Queensland
2000 ‘Fifth National Indigenous Heritage Art Award’, Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra
2000 ’17th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award’, Darwin, N.T.
2000 ‘ Melbourne ArtFair 2000’, Melbourne, Australia
1999 ‘Tingari Cycle, Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane, QLD
1999 ‘Spirit Country’ The California Palace of the Legion of Honour, San Francisco, U.S.A.
1999 ‘Recent Works by Walala Tjapaltjarri and Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri’, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London.
1999 ‘Painting the Desert’ Alliance Francaise de Canberra and the French Embassy. Canberra, A.C.T.
1999 16th National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award, Darwin, N.T.
1998 ‘Tingari-My Dreaming’, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle, W.A.
1998 ’15th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award’, Darwin, N.T.
1997 ’14th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award’, Darwin, N.T.

Solo Exhibitions:
1998 Tingari – Men’s Business’, Coo-ee Gallery, Sydney, NSW
1998 Walala Tjapaltjarri Paintings, Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne, VIC.
1998 ‘Tingari Cycle’ an exhibition of works by Walala Tjapaltjarri, Fire-Works Gallery, Brisbane, QLD.

AMP Investments Australia, Sydney, N.S.W. Axiom Funds Management, Sydney, N.S.W.
Gantner Myer Aboriginal Art Collection CNC International Corporation, Sydney, N.S.W.
Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, Perth, W.A. El Paso Energy International Co, Houston, Texas
Epic Energy Australia, Brisbane, QLD. Flinders University, Adelaide, S.A.
Hastings Funds Management, Melbourne, VIC. Kaplan & Levi Collection, Seattle, U.S.A.
New South Wales Art Gallery, Sydney, N.S.W. The Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica, U.S.A.