Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, “Untitled (Yam Story)”, 1972, Acrylic on Board, 65 x 44 cm, Private Collection
Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, “Tingari”, 1988, Acrylic on Belgian Linen, 121 x 180 cm, Private Collection
Born at Marnpi located in Australia’s Northern Territory in 1926, Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri is one of the most important painters to emerge from Australia’s Western Desert. He was one of the foundation members of the art movement that emerged in Papunya Tula. While many of his peers painted according to stylized conventions, Namarari’s work is distinguished by an extraordinary range of visual inventions.
As a boy, Namrari was taken by his parents on traditional travels throughout the local area, including north to Nyunmanu, a major dingo dreaming site, south to Lake Neal, and northwest to the Warnman Rocks and Warhungurru, a remote settlement in the Kintore Range of the Northern Territory. Following the murder of his father by a Aboriginal avenger group and his mother’s resulting suicide by fire, Namarari, along with his sister, fled the desert and traveled east to the safety of the Lutheran Hermannsburg Mission.
In 1932, Namarari had his first associations with Australians of European background and began to attend the Hermannsburg Mission School. While attending the school, he became acquainted with the work of Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira and his fellow Western Aranda landscape painters. At the age of eleven, Namarari began stock work for cattleman Billy MacNamara at a cattle station located near the early settlement of Areyonga, where he later became initiated in a ceremony that signified his manhood. With the establishment of cattle stations at Haasts Bluff in the 1950s and, later, at Papunya in the 1960s, Namarari and his wife, Elizabeth Nakamarra Marks, eventually moved closer to their traditional country; they would later have one daughter, Angeline Nungurrayl.
In 1971 encouraged by Geoff Bardon, one of the founding members of the Papunya Tula Artists, Namarari, at the age of forty-five, began painting at Papunya. His early works have a bare background of a single color, most often black or rich red-brown, with most depictions related to Aboriginal Dreaming stories of the Moon. Namarari explored figuration in this early work, in which he gave equal emphasis to both the depictions of ceremonial performers and the details of the ceremonial ground with its associated sacred objects. He also created hypnotic depictions of his birthplace, Marnpi, in which he used white pulsing lines to draw the viewer’s eye into the ancestral wind’s vortex generated at the site.
Namarari’s typical work of the 1980s were gracefully controlled renditions of the classical Tingari design of linked concentric circles, which was one of that period’s keystones of Western Desert iconography. Using such tradition patterns, he developed a image series of red and white triangular and rectangular forms. By the late 1990s, Namarari was creating works often using white and yellow paint stipples applied with his fingertips. Because of the unusually large range of totemic sites for which he held responsibilities, Namarari’s later works varied widely in their depictions and in their artistic styles. In addition to the Dreaming stories of the Moon, he painted Dingo, Wind, Kangaroo, Mallee-fowl, Crow, Tingari Men, Hopping Mouse, and Bandicoot Dreamings.
In 1981, Namarari, along with two other senior Pintupi artists, were invited, at the request of former Papunya-associated people, to paint and show their work at an exhibition in Sydney. Namarari was awarded the National Aboriginal Art Award in 1991 and, in 1994, was a co-winner of the Alice Prize and became the inaugural recipient of the Australia Council’s prestigious Red Ochre Award for lifetime achievement. He became the only artist to receive all three awards. Throughout his creative artistic career of over twenty-five years, Namarari remained a loyal member of the Papunya Tula Artists Company, despite numerous offers of representation from local and national galleries.
A reserved man and patient teacher, Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri died in Alice Springs in August of 1998, at the age of seventy two, and left a legacy of over seven hundred paintings that illustrate his inventiveness and the cultural richness of his heritage. His work can be found in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, Darwin’s Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, and the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, as well as in many private collections.
Top Insert Painting: Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Tingari Cycle, 1984, Acrylic on Canvas, 55 x 70 cm, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Painting: Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Children’s Dreaming with Many Body Paint Variations, circa 1972-1973, Papunya Community School Collection