Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula
Artist has Passed Away
1925 - 2001
Out of respect for Aboriginal culture Central Art has removed the artist's photograph.
Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula was born in 1925 at Minjilpirri, in the Western Desert of Australia. It is located south of Lake Mackay and Northwest of Ilpilli. Johnny was a Luritja and Warlpiri speaker, his mother was of Luritja, Warlpiri & Pintupi descent and his father was of Luritja and Warlpiri descent. His childhood was very traditional, not seeing a European person for many years, and when he did he was terrified and thought it was the devil.
He received no formal western schooling, which was common for many Aboriginal families at the time. In the 1950’s his family relocated to Hermannsburg Community, a small catholic mission established approximately 1 hour out of Alice Springs. Whilst at Hermannsburg he went through the appropriate initiations and Aboriginal law ceremonies to become a man.
In his youth he worked as a labourer, digging the foundation for the Alice Springs Airport and then later moving to Haasts Bluff to continue his labouring work and building roads to Mount Liebig, Yuendumu and Mount Wedge. He was only ever paid in the form of “tucker”, foods such as fruit, vegetables, sugar, tea and tobacco.
In 1954 when the Queen visited he along with Nosepeg Tjupurrula were chosen as Aboriginal representatives to meet the monarch. Then in 1960 he relocated his family from Haasts Bluff to Papunya, as the new Aboriginal settlement was built. He became a key community figure at Papunya serving on the community council with Mick Namarai, Kingsley Tjungurrayi and Limpi Tjapangati – all well know and key figures in the Papunya Art movement. When he met teacher, Geoffrey Bardon and was included to modern mediums of art an explosion of talent and artist creation occurred resulting in the historic Western Desert art movement. Johnny’s paintings were labelled as “tremendous illusions” by Geoffrey Bardon.
The primary focus of his paintings was centred on Water Dreaming as well as Yam, Fire and Egret, from around Nyilppi and Nyalpilala – his father’s Dreamings. Through the 1970’s and 1980’s he was one of the leading western desert artists. His artworks are highly collectable with the Aboriginal Indigenous Art Market placing his paintings within the Top 10 artists of all time.
In 1984, The Sydney Morning Herald published a photograph of the Director of the Australian National Gallery, James Mollison, next to a work by Johnny Warrangkula. James Mollison declared the work of Papunya Artists to be ‘the finest abstract art ever produced in this country’ (Johnson, 1994). He then became known as the “Big J.W.”. His artworks have sold of record prices with a painting from 1976 titled “Water Dreaming at Kilpinypa” selling for $206,000.00 and another from 2000 selling at Sotheby’s Auction House for $486,000. At the time this was a world record for an Aboriginal painting.
Between the late 1980’s and the mid 1990’s Johnny produced minimal artworks due to failing eyesight from Trachoma. He received treatment which was successful rejuvenating his career and enthusiasm for painting. He was driven by his desire to record his stories for future generations as well as support his extended family.
His paintings depicted Dreamings of waterholes at sacred locations such as Kampurarrnga, Kalilpilpa and Ilpilli, where he was a traditional owner. His canvases were painted with over-dotting in several layers and his design was very free flowing making his paintings very recognisable. His paintings encompassed different meanings with each layer of paint. They present important historical records, physical places, mythological events and ceremonies.
The ‘Bungalung Men Dreaming’ is of a mythical struggle between the Bungalung and old Tingari man, where one man lights a fire and both eventually perish. The Bungalung man is also described as a giant, an oversized man of the Dreaming, whose tracks are left in the sand. Central Art have two paintings displayed on our website which depict this story in keeping with Johnny’s style.
Johnny’s artworks can be found in some of the most prestigious art collections around Australia and overseas. His works were included in many exhibitions around the world from 1977 and even today, paying tribute to the talent and wonder that were his paintings.
Central Art has removed his photograph out of respect for Aboriginal culture and acknowledges that in traditional Aboriginal culture, once a person as passed on their name is no longer spoken. Naming Aboriginal people who have passed away was traditionally forbidden. You are required to avoid referring to the deceased directly by name as a sign of respect. This has also come to include photographs, filming and voice recordings as technology has grown. Central Art acknowledges that we have named Johnny on our website however it is linguistically difficulty to promote his works without naming him.
Important copyright notice
The Copyright of all images and documentation remains with Sabine Haider. The Australian Copyright Act protects all artists from unauthorised copying by giving control over original works of art to the artist by law. However depending on the use proposed, Sabine Haider from Central Art – Aboriginal Art Store can facilitate reproduction of works with the permission of the artist as we have developed close relationships over the years with many individual painters and craftspeople.
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