Born:                  c. 1948, Dashwood Creek. Tanami Desert, NT
Country:             Mount Leibig, NT. 
Language:          Warlpiri

Lily Kelly was born at Dashwood Creek, near Haasts Bluff circa 1948. She moved with her parents to Haasts Bluff as a baby and grew up on country until the 1960’s when the family moved to the newly established community of Papunya. Her father, Sandy Opal Tjapananka became one of the founding Papuna Tuna shareholders at the dawn of the modern Aboriginal art movement. 

Lily married Norman Kelly Tjampitjinpa in the late 70’s and worked with him on his paintings for Papunya Tula.   Lily began painting in 1986 in her own right working closely with Papunya Tula Artists for several years.  After her move to Mt Leibig near the foot of the McDonnel ranges, she worked with Watiyawanu Artists of Yamunturrngu. During the 1990’s Norman Kelly moved to Lajamanu and took a second wife while Lilly remained at Mount Leibig and brought up their three children.

In time, while she continued to paint without particular distinction, she became one of the senior Law Women of the community, and the custodian over the Women Dreaming stories associated with Kunajarrayi, in Warlpiri and Luritja country stretching between Mt Liebig, Haasts Bluff, Kintore and Conniston. Here she passed on her knowledge of traditional law and ceremonial dancing and singing to her children, eleven grandchildren, and the younger women of her country.

With the success of the Watiyawarnu art centre, Lilly Kelly’s paintings began to gain national attention. From 2000 onward Watiyawarnu participated in the annual Desert Mob exhibition in Alice Springs and with the art centre’s patronage, Lily was selected as a finalist in the NATSIA Awards.  Her most commonly painted dreaming is Tali (Sand Hills) which depicts her country around Mount Liebig.

Her works are almost always painted using white fine dots over a black background and feature a strong three-dimensional quality and a beautiful rhythm. Their fascinating structure depicts intricately detailed topography of her land – the sandhills, the winds and the desert environment after rain sweeps across the plains. Lily won the Northern Territory Art Award for Excellence in Aboriginal Paintings (aka The Telstra’s) in 1986 which was also her first year as an artist. She won the general painting category at the same awards in 2003 and in 2006 she was named one of Australia’s 50 most collectible artists by  Australia Art Collector Magazine.  Today her works ranks 18 on the collectible list and Lily remains one of Australia’s most sought after and collectible Aboriginal artists.

Selected Exhibitions

2000-2003 Desert Mob Show, Alice Springs
2002/2003 Marshall Gallery, Adelaide
2003 NATSIAA Telstra Awards – winner, general painting category
2003 Span Galleries, Melbourne
2004 Mary Place Gallery, Sydney
2005 Desert Dreamings, Mary Place Gallery, Sydney
2005 Japingka Gallery, Fremantle
2006 Luminaries of the Desert, Japingka Gallery,Fremantle
2006 Tony Bond Gallery
2006 Knud Grothe Gallery, Denmark Copenhagen (Lily was Artist in Residence)
2006 Colliding Worlds, Tandanya, Adelaide
2007 Watiyawanu Artists of Amunturrngu, Japingka Gallery,  Fremantle
2008 Watiyawanu Artists, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle
2009 Watiyawanu Artists, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle
2011 In Black and White, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle
2014 Dot Code: Desert Artists, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle
2014 Mini Masters: Small Works, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle
2015   Sixteen Artists – 16 x 2, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA
The Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica USA
Holmes à Court Collection
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Queensland Art Gallery
Thomas Vroom Collection, Amsterdam
James Erskine Collection
Artbank, Sydney
Sherman Collection
Johnson, Vivien. 2008. Lives of the Papunya Tula Artists. Australia. IAD Press.
McCulloch Childs, E. and Gibson, R. 2008. New Beginnings, Classic Paintings from the Corrigan Collection of 21st Century Art. Australia. Australian Art Books.
Dwyer, Carmel.  Australia. Australian Art Collector Magazine 35(106).


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