Tjumpo Tjapanangka

At the time of his passing in 2007, Tjumpo Tjapanangka was Balgo’s most venerated male artist and the most highly regarded Law Man and Maparn (traditional healer) in the community. He is a senior custodian for his country, around Wilkinkarra (Lake McKay), and for its Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) stories and ceremonies.

Regions: Gibson Desert, WA, Great Sandy Desert, WA

DOB: c 1929 - 24 January 2007

Place of Birth: Kanapir, WA

Languages: Kukatja, Pintupi

Community: Balgo, WA

Art Centre: Warlayirti Artists, WA

Tjumpo Tjapanangka was born in Kanapir, a place located between the communities of Wirrimanu (Balgo) and Kiwirrkura in remote Western Australia. At the time of his passing in 2007, Tjumpo Tjapanangka was Balgo’s most venerated male artist and the most highly regarded Law Man and Maparn (traditional healer) in the community. He is a senior custodian for his country, around Wilkinkarra (Lake McKay), and for its Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) stories and ceremonies.

Tjapanangka spent his childhood growing up in the Great Sandy Desert and Gibson Desert, recalling how he would hunt for wallaby, goanna, porcupine and pussycat, as well as being involved in building spinifex and mud shelters for the wet season.

Tjapanangka went to Balgo after a priest, Father Alphonse, sent supplies of flour, sugar and tea into the bush to attract Aboriginal people to the mission at Tjumantora in 1948. It was there that he met his wife, Ningie Nanala, and together they had five children and raised another four children from Ningie’s first relationship.

Around this time, an art movement was beginning when senior men began painting symbols of their cultural authority and knowledge onto found materials. News of this movement and the start of the Papunya Tula Artists cooperative had reached Wirrimanu in 1971, via the Pintupi community networks. There was however reservations about the appropriateness of translating sacred information onto paintings for an outside audience, especially those that were not initiated. This held back the full-scale emergence of the Wirrimanu school. It was following an exhibition, Aboriginal Art from the Great Sandy Desert at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth (1986-87), followed by the establishment of the Warlayirti Art Centre (Balgo) that subsequently saw the explosion of vigour and colour of Wirrimanu painting capture national attention.

He began painting in 1986, at the age of 57. His early works were to adhere to the classic style that depicted the travels of the Tingari ancestors by painting interconnected circles, although with a Wirrimanu twist. These early works were usual of the autumn colours characteristic of Kukatja work.

Between 1987-1989 he developed a fluidity of line that followed the creek-beds that link the claypans and prominent features of his inaccessible custodial landscape. These work of this period were just a precursor to the looser brushwork of paintings that were to follow, such as Wilkinba Near Lake Mackay 19933 depicting the serpent Miliggi. He went on to develop a structure in his paintings that focuses on the spare arrangement of symbolic elements surrounded by a charged energy field of pulsating lines. By 2000 Tjapanangka’s artistic experimentation culminated in works such as his masterpiece Kukurpungku 20003. The haptic quality of the execution of this work evokes a sensation of images drawn in the sand with one’s fingers. It reminds us of the relative infancy of acrylic painting in comparison with the ancient practice of sand drawing. Tjapanangka’s manner is heavily influenced by this and other earlier traditions. His works were characterised by subdued linear patterns rendered in cream and yellow with applications of vital elements in red, adding a vibrancy that enabled him to hint at the elemental forces within his sacred country. This minimalism, often restricting Tjumpo’s iconography solely to undulating lines is reminiscent of the Pintupi creative approach. Though Tjumpo’s work, like that of other Kukatja artists, is distinctly less formal than that of the Pintupi, this aesthetic overlap is nevertheless significant.

Tjapanangka was an inveterate traveller, crisscrossing between the camps and outstations scattered throughout the deserts of Central Australia. A formidable Western Desert personality, Tjapanangka charisma and maverick style were evident in his paintings. As well as becoming one of the most recognised and sought after artists from Warlayirti Artists, he also did screenprints and glass works and whilst his painting style is true to the Wirrimanu aesthetic, his work also signals the influence of the westernmost reach of the Papunya Tula Artists cooperative.

1. Warlayirti Artists
2. Hetti Perkins in ‘Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2014
3. Cooee Art - Tjumpo Tjapanangka


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