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Thomas Tjapaltjarri

Born: c1964
Region: Western Desert
Community: Kintore
Outstation: Kiwirrkuru, West of Lake Mackay
Language Bloc: Western Desert
Language: Pintupi
Social Affiliations: Tjapaltjarri subsection
Medium/ Form: Acrylic paint on canvas

Thomas Tjapaltjarri was born in the Gibson Desert in the early 1960’s and is a member of the Pintupi tribe who live in the Gibson Desert. The sensation in October 1984 was that Thomas and 8 other members of his tribe walked out of the desert from the ‘Stone Age’ into the 20th century. While all the other Aboriginals in the area were being settled on government stations further east, their small family group escaped the net. They continued to live the traditional aboriginal life of nomadic hunter-gatherers, it was a mode of existence sanctioned by millennia. Travelling along the ancient ‘songlines’ within their harsh but beautiful environment, performing the time-honoured rituals and ceremonies of their culture, they had no contact with the modern world of ‘white’ twentieth-century Australia until 1984. It was then that they were ‘found’ by a party from a recently re-settled aboriginal outstation at Kiwirrkuru. The discovery created international headlines. It also created a new life for the wandering ‘tribe’. Needing to find wives from outside the immediate family, they moved to Kiwirrkuru, the tiny settlement of some hundred and eighty people, regarded as ‘the most isolated town in Australia’. In 2000 -2002 he started to paint. His brothers, both very famous artists, Warlimpirrnga and Walala, inspired him to do so. The subjects of his painting are the ‘Tingari Cycle’, a series of sacred and mythological songs, connected to his birthground. His Tingari Cycle paintings are associated with the artist’s Dreaming sites, located throughout the vast sandhill country of W.A.’s Gibson Desert. It was at Kiwirrkuru that Thomas began to paint on canvas, setting down the stories and images of an unbroken cultural tradition stretching back tens of thousands of years, and setting them down with a rare intensity and assurance. This style is characterized by its rectangular shapes and lines surrounded by dots. The strength of his work was recognised at once and is very popular today. His style is strongly gestural and boldly graphic, one that is generally highlighted by a series of rectangles set against a monochrome background.


He paints parts of the Tingari Cycle associated with his sacred sites – including Wilkinkarra, Maruwa, Tarrku, Njami and Yarrawangu, which are important rockholes, sandhills, sacred mountains and water soakages within the Gibson Desert.


Hank Ebes Collection, Melbourne The Henderson Family Collection, Sydney Thomas works are held in important private and corporate collections worldwide.

Selected Group Exhibitions:

2019 Defining Tradition: the first wave & its disciples, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney 2018 Three Brothers, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney 2012 Meeting Cultures: Australian Contemporary Aboriginal Art – ARTECLASICA (Argentina Art Fair) 2010 Lost Tribe, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney 2009 – The Tjapaltjarri Brothers – The last nomads Central art Store, Alice Springs, NT. Thomas recent exhibitions include; Artitja Fine Art: Desert Dreamings, Old George Gallery, East Fremantle and Tingari Country, Gallery Woo Mang, Paris, France in conjunction with the Australian Embassy. This joint Exhibition also featured his brother Walala Tjapaltjarri, Ronnie Tjampitjinpa and Ray James Tjangala.

Thomas Tjapaltjarri's Artworks