TJAPALTJARRI, WARLIMPIRRINGA

Warlimpirrnga is one of Australia’s most acclaimed contemporary Aboriginal artists and a leading figure of the Aboriginal Australian painting community. Born around 1958 near Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay) in Western Australia, Warlimpirrnga and his family lived nomadically until 1984, when the family re-emerged from the desert by chance and integrated into the communal fold of Kiwirrkura.

The discovery of the”Pintupi Nine” or “lost tribe” caused a media sensation. However the family was quick to point out that they were not lost; when others in their community re- located to settlements in the 1950s and 60s, they had chosen to live off the land as traditionally practiced by their ancestors.

With their “discovery,” Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri and his family were thrown into the spotlight and an unfamiliar world. As the senior male of the group, Warlimpirrnga led his family into this world; drawing on all of the survival skills he had learned as a hunter- gatherer. Despite his relative youth, Warlimpirrnga’s upbringing made him a formidable repository of 40,000 year old knowledge and he quickly assumed a position of authority within the Pintupi, admired for his prodigious knowledge of healing, law and ceremony. 

By 1984, painting was an established and central part of modern Pintupi life. It was over a decade since the founding of Papunya Tula Artists—the community art centre that sparked an artistic renaissance in Aboriginal painting. Three years after settling at the community of Kiwirrkurra, Warlimpirrnga began to paint. Under the tuition of a senior artist in the community, he produced his first painting in April 1987. His first 11 works were exhibited in Melbourne at Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi in 1988, with the entire body being acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria, in Melbourne. Since that time, as his reputation has grown, his work has found particular appeal among prestigious international collections, including the National Musee Des Arts Africains et Oceaniens, in Paris. In 2015, Warlimpirrnga had his first solo US exhibition at Salon 94 in New York, cementing his status as one of Australia’s most successful Aboriginal artists.

Warlimpirrnga’s paintings are an abstract recreation of his family’s dreaming. The elaborately topographical patterns of his paintings, created with thousands of delicate concentric lines, often depict sacred landscapes - specifically lake Mackay and Marawa, a clay pan to its west - that figure in the travels of the Pintupi ancestors called Tingari. Traditionally, the journeys of the Tingari were recounted in the designs used on pearl shells and kurtitji (ceremonial shields); the prized possessions of ritual healers, of which Warlimpirrnga is one. Few painters can match the optical intensity found in his paintings. They shimmer and gleam with the potency of the sacred objects from which they are drawn.