Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri

Karsten Moran for NY Times

Somebody or another on Twitter directed me to this NY Times article by Randy Kennedyabout Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri, Australian Aboriginal artist:

Until he was in his 20s, he and his family, part of the Pintupi Aboriginal group, lived in a part of the Western Australia desert so remote that even after other Pintupi were forcibly relocated into settlements in the 1950s and 1960s, his family remained out of view, hunting lizards and wearing no clothes except for human-hair belts, as its ancestors had for tens of thousands of years. When they were encountered by chance in 1984 and persuaded to move to a Pintupi community, they instantly became famous, known in newspaper accounts as the Pintupi Nine and described as the last “lost tribe.”

They moved to bustling Kiwirrkiri:


Here is one of Warlimpirrnga’s paintings at the National Gallery of Victoria:

dingo dreaming

The lines and switchbacks, painted on linen canvas while it is flat on the ground, correspond to mythical stories about the Pintupi and the formation of the desert world in which they live. Some of the stories, which are told in song, can be painted for public consumption, but others are too sacred or powerful to be revealed to outsiders. “My land, my country,” said Mr. Tjapaltjarri, the only English words he uttered during an interview, pointing at a painting with a circle made out of dots. He said it represented a group of ancestral women who appear only at night in the desert around Lake Mackay, a vast saltwater flat that is the primary focus of his paintings.

The way that the lines and curves tell the stories remains mostly a mystery. “I’ve been asking that question for 40 years, and I’ve never really gotten the same answer twice — it’s very inside knowledge,” said Fred R. Myers, an anthropologist at New York University who has studied the Pintupi and their art since the early 1970s and as a doctoral student helped bring attention to the Papunya Tula Artists cooperative, which is owned and directed by Aboriginal people from the Western Desert. “The paintings operate more like mnemonic devices than like representations of a narrative.”

Here’s another one:

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 9.57.04 AM

(gotta say I’m more into the newer stuff).

Here is a good article about the Pintupi Nine from The Australian:

The Pintupi Nine were certainly the last major group to come in, and enjoy a certain celebrity status in Kiwirrkurra that Warlimpirrnga in particular seems happy to trade on. During our interview in his front yard he told a fanciful story of going to New York and hunting rabbits with a boomerang; I was later assured he has never travelled outside Australia.

Welp, now he has:

Dressed in jeans, a checked shirt, Everlast tennis shoes and a black cowboy hat that would have been right at home at Gilley’s nightclub in Houston in the ’70s, Mr. Tjapaltjarri said through an interpreter that he was enjoying the attention his paintings were receiving but that the city itself was a little intimidating. He liked the subway, but the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center not so much.


Reading about all this led me to the Wiki page for Aussie anthropologist Donald Thomson, which has this great line:

Thomson lived with the Pintupi, and liked them, through much of the 1950s and 60s.

Maybe on their tour of Australia Dave and Little Esther will have a chance to check out Lake Mackay:

Lake Mackay

photo by “Viking” found here: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/100106

One Comment on “Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri”

  1. MiK says:

    thanks to stay here and read about it, Mik

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