A tribute to Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri born c.1926 in Pintupi country and who died in 1998. He lived in Papunya and was encouraged by Geoff Bardon to start painting and was a member of the Papunya Tula Artists Company. By 1991 when he won the National Aboriginal Art Award his works were being acquired by national collections and many other collectors.
At the time of his death in August, 1998, M.N. Tjapaltjarri was one of the greatest of all Australian artists. He was born c.1926 at Marnpi (Bronzewing Pigeon) Rockhole, west southwest of Alice Springs, well towards the WA border. Traditional travels with his parents took him in all directions about this locality, including north to Nyunmanu (a major dingo dreaming site for which he also had responsibilities) and the Ehrenberg Range, south to Lake Neale, east to the Cleland Hills and west and northwest to the Warnman Rocks and Warlungurru (Kintore). By the age of five years he had a good knowledge of all the key points in this south-eastern Pintupi country.
When his father was murdered by an Aboriginal avenger group and, in her anguish, his mother threw herself into a fire and died of her burns, the young Tjapaltjarri and his sister walked east, where they found kinfolk who cared for them.
In 1932 he had his first associations with Australians of European background and soon afterwards began attending school at Hermannsburg Mission. However, at about the age of eleven he commenced horse-tailing and other stock work for an old cattleman called 'Billy the Bunyip' MacNamara. The 'Namara' portion of the name was coincidentally similar to one of his traditional totems - that of the Mallee Fowl - and from then on his name became an Aboriginalised version of MacNamara. This cattle station work was in proximity to Areyonga, an early settlement, and it was here that he was initiated.
The establishment of Haasts Bluff cattle station and then Papunya in the 1950s and 1960s allowed him and his wife - as with many other Pintupi people - to move back closer to his traditional country. Although they were to have no children of their own, they adopted several children who became regarded as full members of the family.
In 1971, encouraged by Geoff Bardon, he commenced painting at Papunya. His early works often had a bare background of black or rich red-brown, but were by no means restricted to these colours. Favourite early depictions were related to the Moon Dreaming, and Geoff Bardon's film Mick and the Moon captures the wonderful variations in the artist's works at this time. Later he widely varied his artistic styles and, because he had an unusually large range of totemic sites for which he had responsibilities, developed a truly remarkable number of variant depictions. Thus, in addition to the Moon, he painted Dingo, Mallee-fowl, Wind, Kangaroo, Dancing Women, Tingarri Men, Wren, Crow, Naughty Boys, Hopping Mouse and Bandicoot Dreamings. During the 1980s he developed a dramatic red and white 'rectangle' and 'triangle' form which derived from certain traditional patterns, but by the late 1990s was creating dazzling works, often in yellow and white finger-tip stipples.
In 1981 he accepted an invitation to travel to Sydney where he and two other senior Pintupi men painted at the request of former Papunya-associated people who gave the name renegade to the exhibition - a good selling point in Sydney but a term never used by the artists themselves. Although involved in later interstate travels he much preferred to live at Papunya for health reasons and kinfolk ties. However, well after Warlungurru was established he moved there and was soon a key figure in the establishment of Nyunmanu homeland.
The 1990s found him back at Papanyu creating magnificent works. He won the National Aboriginal Art Award in 1991, by which time the National, most State galleries had began to acquire his works as well as many private collectors and overseas galleries .
Throughout his creative artistic time he remained loyal to the founding Papunya Tula Artists Company, of which he was a member, despite many private gallery owners and 'go-getter' individuals attempting to entice him to paint exclusively for them. He was an artist of integrity in all ways.
Y.Y. Gibson Tjungurrayi
Y.Y. Gibson Tjungurrayi, who was born c.1928 at Iltuturunga, west of Lake MacDonald, was a quietly spoken gentle giant when in his prime during the 1970s. On one occasion, when gathering firewood, he wrenched large dead mulga trees out of the ground and tossed them onto the back of the Toyota as though they were matchsticks.
The artist was a strongly traditional man who often preferred to talk in sign language unless travelling in country over which he had specific ownership rights. This country extended from the general western Lake MacDonald area, including the sacred men's site Yawulyurru (for which he was the senior man of responsibility in his mature age), north to Mantarti. The latter is a complex of low rocky hills between Warlungurru (Kintore) and Kiwirrkura, and takes its name from the white-barked eucalypts which grow in the area. It was his mother's country, and the greater significance lies in large claypans which lie immediately to the south and are long lasting after good rains.
As with numbers of Pintupi people he became aware of the 1956-1966 era migrations east by many of the Pintupi so he himself decided to see what there was which appealed. He and his young family walked north to his mother's country along a well-defined walking route that led from native wells to rock-holes, then followed another major travelling route east to Papunya. As with many of the Pintupi people he had not previously been this far east, nor had he first-hand contact with the wider Australian society, so he invariably camped on the western side of the community - closest to his own country.
In 1971, encouraged by Geoff Bardon, he became one of the early Papunya Tula artists. He usually preferred a dark background with white for the key elements of the composition, although occasionally he used yellow or other primary colours. Tingarri stories, to do with the ceremonial stories of ancestral men, were a major focus. Much as he painted variations of his dreamings, he remained more conservative than most in his compositions. Indeed, some of the most striking of his white over black paintings of the late 1990s were almost identical with 1971-1972 period works, including elements that he had not painted for the better part of 25 years.
During the 1980s he spent considerable time at his small, well-appointed home which had been established at his mother's site, Mantarti. There and at Warlungurru he encouraged members of his very large family to learn how to paint their birth-place country, as well as the totemic country for which they would have responsibilities after his death. By 1990, though, with Mantarti having problems with water and communications, and with his health failing, he returned to live at Warlungurru. Here he became increasingly frail, often using a branch as a walking stick prop, and lost the appearance of a robust giant.
His works were acquired by the more discerning Australian State galleries and private collectors, as well as a major New York gallery and international connoisseurs of Pintupi art.
He died in the Alice Springs hospital in December 1998, with his last words to the author of this brief tribute being about shared travels in his home country.