27 August 1971 is the day Western Desert art began to manifest itself publically as Kaapa Mbitjana Tjampitjinpa was named joint winner of the 1971 Caltex Golden Jubilee Art Award in Alice Springs.
His acrylic painting on a piece of hardboard titled Men’s Ceremony for the Kangaroo, Gulgardi inspired the art award judge Jo Caddy to comment in her speech:
“This old man is a true artist. He took what he found, an old piece of waste lumber he located in a rubbish tip and the dregs of some paint he found lying around the settlement and made art out of it.”
The following year along with other painting men from the government settlement at Papunya they formed the artists’ company Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd, with Tjampitjinpa becoming its first Chairman.
The 40 years that followed initially saw hundreds of boards and then thousands of stretched linens painted with unique expressions of their ancestral stories. As can be common in artistic endeavours, public recognition grew slowly. By the mid 1990s the movement became highly visible as Sotheby’s sought out early boards for auction and the painting women emerged as a dynamic new direction of the movement.
Today the Western Desert art movement is widely acknowledged as an important aspects of Australian art history and the popular success that eventuated empowers the artists’ company to support initiatives promoting health, education, recreation and ceremonial events benefitting thousands of Western Desert people.
The National Gallery of Victoria, in its 150th year celebrations, is honouring the 40th anniversary of the Western Desert art movement with its major exhibition for the year: TJUKURRTJANU: Origins of Western Desert Art, from 29 September 2011 to 12 February 2012. Focusing on the genesis of the movement the exhibition features Kaapa Tjampitjinpa’s pivotal painting and many other seminal paintings produced at Papunya in 1971-72 alongside their preceding traditional artifacts. The exhibition is a collaboration between the National Gallery of Victoria and Museum Victoria in partnership with Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd.
More at: www.ngv.vic.gov.au/whats-on/exhibitions/exhibitions/tjukurrtjanu-origins-of-western-desert-art
Symbolic beginning of the Western Desert Art Movement (below) Kaapa Mbitjana Tjampitjinpa, Men’s Ceremony for the Kangaroo, Gulgardi, 1971, acrylic on hardboard, 61 x 137 cm (irregular). Araluen Art Collection, acquired by the Central Australian Art Society.