Details & Cataloguing

Aboriginal Art


John Tjakamarra circa 1937-2002
Bears Stuart Art Centre catalogue number 19153 on reverse
Synthetic Polymer paint on composition board
66cm by 47cm
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report


Painted in the Papunya region in mid 1972
Stuart Art Centre, Alice Springs
Private collection, France, acquired from the above in 1972

This painting is accompanied by a Stuart Art Centre field note, with a drawing describing the work and numbered 19135.


Origins of Western Desert Art: Tjukurrtjanu, National Gallery of Victoria, An NGV Touring Exhibition, 30 September 2011 – 12 February 2012, The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne; 9 October 2012 – 20 January 2013, Musée du quai Branly, Paris


Ryan & Batty, Origins of Western Desert Art: Tjukurrtjanu, NGV, 2011, p.91, illus.

Catalogue Note

The work of John Tjakamarra, who is also known as John Kipara, holds steadfastly to the idiom of recreating ritual body painting designs and ceremonial sand mosaics with their highly textured surfaces of wamulu (the impasto paint made from a combination of ochre colours and pulped vegetable matter) in visually tactile painted surfaces.

Tjakamarra's early paintings on board feature fields of loose, energetically applied dots as seen in Untitled, 1972, which create a luminous, dappled effect. These gave way to a more meticulous regularity of dot application in his later canvas compositions based on matrices formed by series of roundels that possess a rhythmical, musical quality evocative of chanting of ancestral songs in ceremony. Both approaches carry a sense of intensity, or the gravitas of ‘being in the moment.’

In this painting Tjakamarra depicts a man’s ritual body decoration where the central set of concentric circles represents the man, and the alternating bands of red ochre and white dots or feather down represent the body design. These are bordered by diagonal lines of repeated chevrons representing feather down that is applied to the body. The overall composition suggests a type of split-representation as though we are looking simultaneously at the front and back of the figure wearing the ceremonial decoration.

The painting had not been seen in public from the time it was acquired by the collector from the Stuart Art Centre in Alice Springs in 1972 until it was shown in the landmark exhibition, Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, in 2011, and at the Musée du quai Branly, Paris, in 2012-13. Unlikely to be repeated, the exhibition surveyed the early works of the major artists who belonged to the initial group of painters at Papunya in 1971.


Aboriginal Art