ICON Art Series: Ronnie Tjampitjinpa

Ronnie Tjampitjinpa was born in the early 1940s at Tjiturrunya, west of Mawuyan, across the Northern Territory border in Western Australia.  He spent most of his formative years as a nomad in the remote desert surrounding his birthplace.  He was initiated in the Winparku area of Western Australia.  Due to drought conditions in the 1950s, he and his family walked into Haasts Bluff where Tjampitjinpa worked as a stockman.  He and his family were then removed to the newly formed Papunya settlement in the early 1960s, where Tjampitjinpa worked as a fencer, making yards for cattle.  Ronnie Tjampitjinpa commenced painting in 1971 and is now a world-renowned Australian Aboriginal artist, who won the Northern Territory Art Award (1984) and Alice Prize (1988).  Tjampitjinpa is considered an innovator and one of the grand masters of the Central and Western Desert Art movement. 

‘Ronnie Tjampitjinpa ignored dots; most of his work is strongly graphic, linear and very bold. Many of his designs are based on the water dreaming design found on pearl shell pendants and the zigzags that encode lightning and thunder – the power to make rain.’ Judith Ryan, Senior Curator Indigenous Art, National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).

In 2004, Tjampitjinpa was elected to Chairman of the Papunya Tula Artists – the pioneer artist-owned cooperative model – this year celebrating its 40th anniversary. Papunya Tula have not only promoted individual artists, but provided economic development for the communities to which they belong (including youth, educational, sporting, health and transport programs) and assisted in the maintenance of a rich cultural heritage. 

Tjampitjinpa’s work features in the National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV) ‘Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art’, which is an international touring exhibition set to open at Musée du quai Branly, Paris in October 2012. The Ronnie Tjampitjinpa series is based on two works;

‘Rain Making’ based on the original artwork, 'Rain Making At Malparingya’, depicting body paint designs associated with rain making ceremonies at the site of Malparingya, slightly south east of Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay).  

‘Echidna Dreaming’ based on the original artwork, 'Echidna Dreaming At Tjungaringya‘, depicting body paint designs associated with Tingari ceremonies relating to the Tjilkamata (Echidna) Dreaming at the claypan and rockhole site of Tjungaringya, south of Lake Mackay. 

‘Perentie Dreaming’ based on ‘Perentie Dreaming At Walungurru’, depicting the Tingari myth of the Ngintaka (Perentie) lizard, tracked by two women who killed it. The Perentie turned to stone, forming a prominent landmark at Kintore, in the Northern Territory. 

(Generally, the Tingari are a group of ancestral beings of the Dreaming who travelled over vast stretches of the country, performing rituals and creating and shaping particular sites. The Tingari men were usually followed by Tingari women and were accompanied by novices, and their travels and adventures are enshrined in a number of song cycles. These ancestral stories form part of the teachings of the post initiatory youths today as well as providing explanations for contemporary customs.)

To document this exciting collaboration, we've filmed a series of short films – Papunya Tula Stories (above) – the first time, Ronnie was filmed painting and was interviewed on location at Kintore, 500 kms west of Alice Springs, Northern Territory. We also filmed NGV Senior Indigenous Art Curator, Judith Ryan, at Musee quai du Branly.

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