Life: c 1943 - 2023
Country: Kintore (Walungurru)
Ronnie Tjampitjinpa is recognised as one of Australia’s leading Aboriginal Artists. He was born at Muyinnga 100km west of the Kintore Ranges in Western Australia c. 1943 and was initiated into Aboriginal Law at Yumari, near his birthplace.
Ronnie was the nephew of one of the founders of the painting movement at Papunya (Uta Uta Tjangala) and he grew up living a traditional lifestyle in the Winparrku area of the Western Desert. His family travelled extensively across Pintupi territory, moving through this region and also around Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay) which straddles the Western Australia - Northern Territory border.
As a young lad at around 13, Ronnie Tjampitjinpa walked with his family out of the West Australian desert and settled into life in the tumultuous and crowded settlement of Papunya. In 1971, at the dawn of the Desert painting movement, Ronnie Tjampitjinpa was in his late 20’s. After attending the European-style school in Papunya he returned to the Western Desert, went through initiation at Umari near his birthplace in the region near Muyinnga, about 100 km west of the Kintore Ranges. He spent time in Yuendumu and then returned to live with his relatives in Papunya where he worked as a police tracker, health worker, and labourer.
His earlier tribal initiation into ceremonial knowledge along with his familiarity with country and sacred sites stood helped when he began painting in his early thirties, under the tutelage of Old Mick Tjakamarra. Ronnie was one of the youngest men who began painting in the mid 1970’s but he didn't paint much as he moved regularly between Papunya, Yuendumu and Mount Doreen Station. As the younger generation no longer lived in close proximity to their traditional homelands, painting had become an important means for the older law keepers to pass on their knowledge of sacred sites. Ronnie, having been initiated, became an important participant and a mediator in this process.
The older painters collaborated on ways to establish protocols for telling the Dreaming while protecting the sacred knowledge they represented.. Being the youngest artist, Ronnie took a bolder, more expressionist approach. Rather than, individual dots, his pieces evolved into linked or ‘flicked’ dotting and a strong lines.
Ronnie Tjampitjinpa was a strong advocate for the outstation movement, that was seeing growth in and partly funded by Papunya art sales. During this period he travelled to Yuendumu, Balgo Hills and Mount Doreen encouraging as many people as he could to return to their traditional Pintupi lands. In 1983 he moved with his family to the small settlement of Ininti-Redbank, near Kintore, and stopped painting for a few years due to his political involvements. This included becoming chairman of the Kintore outstations council and his involvement in important claims for land rights. Having already established new ways of interpreting his ancient visual language, he returned to painting with renewed enthusiasm. He is said to have described politics as 'too much humbug'.
In 1984 Tjampitjinpa won the Northern Territory Art Award. This became controversial when other contestants complained that Papunya art was folk art and not worthy of the ‘high art’ title, a strangely persistent attitude in some art circles at that time. The moment became an historic landmark when Judge Nancy Underhill upheld her decision defending his entry, Happening at Mt. Leibig, as genuine art and notably of the highest standard. Demand for Tjampitjinpa’s work grew and his leaning towards painterly abstraction was increasingly favoured and encouraged by the contemporary art market. He emerged as a leading figure, sustaining the boom in the national and international reputation of Aboriginal art during the 1990’s.
Ronnie's works first appeared in Papunya Tula exhibitions during the 1970s, and later in commercial art galleries in Sydney and Melbourne throughout the 1980's. He won the Alice Springs Art Prize in 1988 and this was followed by successive solo exhibitions.
From the mid 1990’s Ronnie Tjampitjinpa began painting for a wide array of dealers, only occasionally returning to work with Papunya Tula. Even though Ronnie frequently made his work available to other dealers, Papunya Tula remained committed to this artist, organising solo exhibitions for him. In 2004 was elected Chairman of the Aboriginal owned art company.
His work has been included in major survey exhibitions in Australia and overseas yet he eschews the trappings of fame and fortune as he divides his time between working as a painter and his ceremonial obligations. Able to earn money wherever he goes, Ronnie was the quintessential modern nomad, familiarly known across a wide expanse of country as he constantly travelled in his four-wheel drive with his spears tied on the roof.
Ronnie's work follows the Pintupi style of strong circles joined together by connecting lines relating to the people, country and the Dreamtime. The primary images in Ronnie's work are based on the Tingari Cycle and the rites and practices associated with the secret song cycle sacred to initiated men. The Tingari are Dreamtime Beings who travelled across the landscape performing ceremonies to create and shape the country associated with Dreaming sites. The Tingari ancestors gathered at these sites for Maliera (initiation) ceremonies. The sites take the form of, and are located at, significant rock-holes, sand hills, sacred mountains and water soakages in the western desert. Ronnie’s Fire Dreaming tells of the practice of land development through the practice of controlled burns for reinvigoration. The lines that run down the centre of these works depict the high point of the land, usually a sand dune from which the men observe and control their fire.
Ronnie was Chairman of the Kintore Outstation Council and lived on his homelands until ill health forced him to seek medical support in Alice Springs. He passed away in Alice Springs in 2023.
- National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
- National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
- Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney
- Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
- Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Darwin
- Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
- Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane
- Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria
- Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs
- Robert Holmes a Court
- Medibank Private Collection
- Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, Darwin
- Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide
- Donald Khan, U.S.A.
- Richard Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica, U.S.A.
- Musee National des Arts Africains et Oceaniens, Paris, France
- Groninger Museum, The Netherlands
- 1982 Brisbane Festival, Brisbane
- 1983 Mori Gallery, Sydney
- 1986 Galerie Dusseldorf, Germany
- 1986 Aboriginal Arts Australia, Canberra
- 1987, 1988, 1989, 1993, 1996 Gallery Gabriella Pizzi, Melbourne
- 1988 Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
- 1988 Expo '88, Brisbane
- 1991, 1993, Chapman Gallery, Canberra
- 1991 Australian National Gallery, Canberra
- 1991 Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, U.S.A.
- 1992 Aboriginal Artists Agency, Sydney
- 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998 Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs
- 1992 Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Ballarat
- 1993 Art Gallery of N.S.W., Sydney
- 1993 Art Museum, Armidale, N.S.W.
- 1993 Art Gallery of W.A., Perth
- 1994 National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
- 1994 Utopia Gallery, Sydney
- 1994 Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Milan and Palermo, Italy
- 1994 Museum Villa Stuck, Munich, Germany
- 1995 Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne
- 1996 - 2006 Twenty-Five Years and Beyond: Papunya Tula Painting, Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide
- 1998 Jinta Gallery, Sydney
- 1999 - 2001 Spirit Country, San Francisco, touring
- 1999 Flinders Art Museum Flinders University, Adelaide
- 1999 Embassy of Australia, Washington, U.S.A.
- 1999 Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, U.S.A.
- 2000 Aboriginal Art Galleries of Australia, Melbourne
- 2000 Papunya Tula Genesis and Genius, Australia Gallery, N.S.W.
- 2001 Listed in Australian Art Collector magazine as one of the 50 Australia’s Most Collectible Artists.
- 2001, 2003 Chapel off Chapel Gallery, Melbourne
- 2003 Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane
- 2004 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
- 2006 Utopia Art, Sydney
- 2007 Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne
- 2009 Again listed in Australian Art Collector magazine as one of the 50 Australia’s Most Collectible Artists.
- 2010 Papunya Tula Artists, Alice Springs: Ronnie Tjampitjinpa – The King of Kintore
- 2015 Art Gallery of NSW – Ronnie Tjampitjinpa: Celebration of a 40 Year Career
- 1984 Northern Territory Art Award
- 1988 Alice Springs Art Prize