Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri

Lights on an empty stage.

Image: Shutterstock

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri is a painter of works that look like topographical maps – large canvases full of precise dots forming concentric, spiraling shapes. They seem to scintillate if looked at for too long, the tight spirals fooling the eyes. But these works are not abstract.

The lines that spiral and switch back on themselves and never cross are painted on linen canvas while it lies on the ground, and they correspond to the stories Mr. Tjapaltjarri grew up in.

Mr. Tjapaltjarri is a member of the Pintupi Aboriginal group, from a remote corner of Western Australia. Most of the Puntupi were forcibly relocated onto settlements in the 50s and 60s by the Australian government, but Mr. Tjapaltjarri’s family evaded the relocation until 1984, when he was around twenty years old. Their discovery then was lauded in newspapers as the last “lost tribe,” but there was nothing lost about them. They simply lived as they always had, as desert hunters.

At twenty, when his family was persuaded to join a Pintupi settlement, Mr. Tjapaltjarri was the eldest man in his family, which made him the keeper of their stories. With two of his brothers, he began to set those stories down on canvas. His work was instantly popular among the Desert Painting movement.

His first solo exhibition in the United States is open now through October 24th in the Salon 94 Gallery on the Bowery, NYC. His works there are selling for $25,000 to $80,000, and he is proud of his reception there and enjoying his first tour of the States.

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