Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri

Artist: Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri
Language: Pintupi
Country: Gibson Desert

Warlimpirrnga was born around 1955 at Tjuulnga east of Kiwirrkurra in Pintupi country.   His mother, Papalya Nangala and father, Waku Tjungurrayi then had a daughter, Takariya.  Waku also took three of Papalya’s sisters as his wives and they all lived in the desert without any knowledge of ‘white fellas’.   Wati and Watjunka (one of the sisters) already had a son called Piyirti (also spelt Payirti and Piyiti).       After Waki died around 1964 Lanti (also known as Old Joshua) arrived from Balgo (where, according to Jeremy Long he had been burnt in a fire) and, as he was the ‘right skin’ Tjungurrayi for the sisters, he took them as his wives with Nanu as his primary one.     Joshua and Nanu’s children were Tamayinya (Thomas), Yalti and Yulkulti.    Lanti and Watjunka had a son called Walala who was the youngest of the extended family.

When Lanti died around 1981/1982 it was thought he had been poisoned by non-Aboriginal mining people who believed he had been entering their camp stealing tinned meat.   The twice widowed Papalya and Nanu, who had been told about ‘white fellas’ by Lanti and were scared sent Warlimpirrnga and his half-brother, Piyirti, to search for relatives they hadn’t seen for many years.   They came across Pinta Pinta Tjapanangka and his son, Matthew, fixing a flat tyre not far from Kiwirrkura.

In October 1984, with no male elder now part of the group and the knowledge all nine were related and that inbreeding could be a possibility, seven Aboriginal men from Kiwirrkura, including Freddy West (who knew the family before he had contact with ‘white fellas’), went searching for the group.   Fearing they would be scared seeing clothed Aboriginals the seven stripped naked and convinced the group to return to Kiwirrkura with them.    The group comprised of Papalya and Nanu (the widows), in their mid 50’s, Piyiti about 26, Warlimpirrnga about 25, Takariya about 24, Tamayinya about 15, Yalti about 14, Yukultji about 12 or 13 and Walala about 12.    Up until this time they had had no personal contact with Europeans.

Their arrival in Kiwirrkura made international headlines and they became known as ‘The Lost Tribe’ and ‘The Pintupi Nine’ (These first contact experiences were the focus of one episode of Robert Hughes’ Beyond the Fatal Shore 2000 documentary for the BBC and ABC).

After a few months Piyiti crept away from Kiwirrkura and walked back to the desert.    Warlimpirrnga has said he is the only one who knows where Piyiti is and has often seen him.   

In 1987 Warlimpirrnga began painting for Papunya Tula Artists in Kiwirrkura and in 1988 Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi exhibited his first 11 works which were purchased by Ron and Nellie Castan and donated to the National Gallery of Victoria.
Warlimpirringa encouraged his brothers, Tamayinya (Thomas) and Walala, to paint and by the late 1990’s all three, along with Dr George Tjapaltjarri, were painting for Gallery Gondwana in Alice Springs.

Warlimpirrnga’s first wife was Yalti Napangati, the oldest daughter of Lanti and Nanu Nangala, his mother’s younger sister and they shared two sons and two daughters.

Warlimpirrnga paints his Dreamings which include Snake, Tingari Cycle (the celestial ancestors of the Pintupi people who travelled the desert country creating the landscape and all on it which became sacred or sacred sites and teaching law) including the sites of Marawa, Kanapilya, Kalparti, Minatapinya plus Malu (emu) dreaming.

Warlimpirrnga’s work was included in the Art Gallery of NSW’s 2000 Papunya Tula – genesis and genius exhibition and he and three other artists travelled to Sydney to make a large sand painting for the opening of the exhibition.   The astonishing art in the exhibition by Papunya Tula’s renowned Western Desert artists can still be seen in the exhibition’s book ‘Papunya Tula – genesis and genius’ (ISBN 0 7347 6306 9 (pbk.) and ISBN 0 7347 6310 7).

In 2015 Warlimpirrnga travelled to New York for his first international solo exhibition which was held in Salon 94.    It was a sell-out with some of Warlimpirrnga’s paintings selling for over $80,000.   One of the purchasers was the actor, comic, writer and avid art collector, Steve Martin.     Mr Martin now has many Aboriginal paintings and part of what fascinates him about Aboriginal art is what he calls its ‘lack of irony’.   Unlike a lot of contemporary art, ‘there is no question of it being either safe or daring.   The work is directly proportionate to the emotions of the artist’.     (Smee, Sebastian, Steve Martin, the unexpected advocate for Aboriginal art, Washington Post, 21 May 2019).

Warlimpirrnga has been recognised as one of the most collectable Aboriginal artists for many years and remains so.

He now lives in Kiwirrkura and travels to Alice Springs from time to time.

Sources used:
Johnson, Vivien, Lives of the Papunya Tula Artists, Australia. IAD Press, 2008.
Toohey, Paul, The Bulletin, 4 May 2004, p.28 – 35.

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri
Lake Mackay, Marua (WA) | Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri | TWAT 808
Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri
Lake Mackay, Marua (WA) | Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri | TWAT 804
Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri
Lake Mackay (WA) | Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri | TWAT 801
Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri
Tingari Cycle | Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri | TWAT 605
Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri
Tingari Cycle | Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri | TWAT 402

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