With the support of Warakurna Artists TMG is proud to present an exhibition of new work by senior Aboriginal painters George Ward Tjungurrayi and Nola Yurnangurnu Campbell from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands of Western Australia.
Now in their late seventies Tjungurrayi and Campbell live at the Wanarn Aged Care Home where a painting programme is administered by the Art Centre at Warakurna.
Every Friday morning the Warakurna Artists crew pack their Toyota with paint and canvas, and make the short (by Australian standards) 100km drive down the Great Central Road. The painting room is set up with straight-backed chairs and generous tables and the elderly residents – many in palliative care – create artworks that represent their cosmology and Country – from “the first mornings in the time before time”.
This atmosphere of calm creativity is evoked in a University of Western Australia 2015 publication: ‘Wanarn Painters of Place and Time’, by David Brooks and Darren Jorgensen.
“The Wanarn paintings are accomplished with confidence and ease, over tea or television, on the verandah or in bed […] The precise interpretation of the paintings and their relationship to tjukurrpa (the Dreaming) remains obscure because they are made by people who are experiencing the end of their lives, with sensibilities far from the anxieties of life as we know it. They have a quality of ‘Verschmolzenheit’, an expressive simplicity that comes to artists in old age.”
Pintupi artist George Ward Tjungurrayi was born c.1945 near Tjukurla in the Ngaanyatjarraku Lands of Western Australia.
His family’s first contact with Europeans was through government ‘welfare patrols’ in the Gibson Desert and by the 1960s he was living in the Northern Territory at Papunya, a settlement established by the government as a marshalling point for Aboriginal people who were being displaced from their traditional lands.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the hardship and cultural deprivation of life in Papunya it was the place where in 1971 the local school teacher Geoffrey Bardon encouraged a group of Pintupi, Anmatyerre, Luritja and Warlpiri men to paint a mural on a blank school wall.
Their painting ‘Honey Ant Dreaming’ (now destroyed) is seen today as marking the very beginning of the Western Desert art movement. The extraordinarily successful and influential Papunya Tula Artists co-operative was formed the following year, in 1972, and is still thriving.
From as early as 1976 George Ward Tjungurrayi was assisting the senior men who were painting at Papunya, but it was not until the 1990s, and the passing of his elder brother, Yala Yala Gibbs, that he started painting seriously with Papunya Tula.
Soon afterward his work would be included in the critically acclaimed ‘Papunya Tula: Genesis and Genius’ exhibition curated by Hetti Perkins at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2000, and he is now represented in collections including the NGA (Canberra), NGV (Melbourne), AGNSW (Sydney), AGSA (Adelaide) and the Musée National des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie (Paris).
Since moving to Wanarn Tjungurrayi’s style has become simplified and more ethereal, however his classic iconography of concentric circles endures, following the sacred Tingarri Cycle’s network of tjukurrpa (songlines) traversing the vast Western Desert.
Brooks and Jorgensen write: “The Wanarn artists push Australia’s Western Desert painting movement, well known for its dots and circles, into sparser and wobblier forms. These artists isolate and warp its motifs, to create an after-image of the Western Desert’s aesthetic. […] The order lies in the metaphysics of the tjukurrpa, betrayed here by unsteady hands with an utterly intuitive grasp of the subject […] fragmenting the motifs of the Western Desert and loosening their certainties.
Theirs is a troubling transect of the dot painting movement, where visual ideas are lost in a blur of paint or a fading of intention that nonetheless whisper in the language of the desert.”
Nola Yurnangurnu Campbell is a Manyjilyarra artist whose Country is in the Gibson Desert, about halfway between Alice Springs and the coast of Western Australia. Born ‘out bush’ around 1948 she lived a traditional life until first contact with white people in the 1960s when her family was relocated to the missionary settlement of Warburton.
Campbell’s family were among the last to be forced into such a community by the government’s policy of intervention, and along with George Ward Tjungurrayi she is one of the few living artists who can remember a time when their traditional life was intact.
“The stories I tell in my paintings are from my dreaming, which is Yurranpa (Honey Tree) Dreaming and from my husband’s dreaming, which is Yunpalara (Lake Blair) and Wirrwul (west of Patjarr).
I paint my husband’s dreaming because he said I could, and it keeps his dreaming alive and strong. It’s also my country. I like being able to paint the country I grew up in, was born in, to keep it alive. It also makes me think about my mother and my family who used to walk this country long before me.”
Nola Campbell was a Finalist in the 2021 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. Her work has been collected by the Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki as well as by QAGOMA (Brisbane) and the NGV (Melbourne).
TMG is proud to introduce her paintings, and those of George Ward Tjungurrayi, to viewers and collectors in Aotearoa New Zealand.