23 November 2007
Martin (Maatja) Tjampitjinpa – His art remains, each painting a self-portrait, a memory map. A gentle man of infinite joy, mischief and mystery, his passing cast a shadow over our lives. He was, and always will be, a deep thread in the fabric of Papunya Tula Artists.
The youngest of four brothers, Tjampitjinpa was a precious gift, born of the union of forbidden love. Warm-hearted, generous and fiercely loyal in friendship, his laughter was tinged with remembrance of things past. His paintings drew on that reservoir of experiences and memories, which forged his artistic sensibility.
First and foremost, his work depicted the travels of that pivotal figure in his life, his late father, Uta Uta Tjangala, whose intuition, poise and selflessness he inherited. For Tjampitjinpa, to paint was to journey alongside Tjangala to the grand soakage waters of Ngurrapalangu, to the complex geography of Umari, and beyond. His paintings are rare histories of another generation, passages of time in the recent past.
Tjampitjinpa was in his element in the heartlands of the Western Desert, journeying with family in newly acquired Toyotas to distant football carnivals and surrounding sites of significance. The desert yields epic tales of Tjampitjinpa and his kin: stories of love and loyalty, of tragedy and survival. Transcribed in paint, they raise up the surface of life, like scars on skin.
A catalyst in Tjampitjinpa’s development as an artist was the return to Kintore of his beloved mother, Walangkura Napanangka. Her vital presence and authority, and her inspiring, raw artistic ability, gave him a new sense of purpose and belonging. Tjampitjinpa did not paint prolifically. His irregular contortions of concentric squares and circles sit poised in defiance of the flat surface of the canvas, echoing the deep, irregular incisions once made on stone and on the patterned contours of wood. They chart familiar yet unexpected places.
For many young Pintupi men, life is increasingly centred in Alice Springs. The hum and buzz of town life held an attraction for Tjampitjinpa, yet his dislocation from country did not quell his compulsion to paint. He maintained a strict daily routine, reasserting his place beside his father in country despite the distance in place and time. Far from sentimental, his paintings reaffirmed the inherently philosophical, if not political, dimension that informs all Papunya Tula art â€“ one that speaks of land, loss and identity. When in Alice Springs, his war cry often came: “I’m not from this place”.
We are not left to consider what might have been, for we see what was and has been created. Tjampitjinpa’s art captured the man in full flight. Aware of the expectations of tradition, but aesthetically unencumbered by its demands, immune to current fashions or stylistic trends, he painted to remember, to journey, to belong.
In life, his reckless abandon rendered him seemingly immortal. In death, his art and the clarity of his vision stand fast.
Papunya Tula Artists thank the Jackson family for their permission to stage this exhibition in Tjampitjinpa’s honour, and acknowledge their whole-hearted support for the publication of this catalogue.