Lot 92
  • 92

Joseph Jurra Tjapaltjarri born circa 1952

30,000 - 50,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Joseph Jurra Tjapaltjarri
  • Pulyulngya Soakage Water Site
  • Bears artist’s name and Papunya Tula catalogue number on the reverse
  • Acrylic on Belgian linen, 2006


Painted in Kintore in February, 2006

Papunya Tula Artists, Alice Springs catalogue number JJ0602149

The Luczo Family Collection, USA

Catalogue Note

Joseph Jurra belongs to a cohort of men who watched their elders painting the first great canvases at Papunya and its outstations in the 1970s. They observed as older men laid down the songlines of ancestral heroes and intoned the verses that told of their adventures. After observing the process, and on showing themselves to be committed students of the Law, the young men were recruited to contribute to the dotted infill at the periphery of these collaborative works.1

Jurra and his peers gained increased authority in the mid 1980s, when they returned to their country after decades of exile at Papunya. At last they were able to visit their sites of conception, the country of their grandfathers and the locales where they had spent their formative years. Equipped with both knowledge and authority Joseph Jurra, George Tjungurrayi, Ray James Tjangala and Bobby West Tjupurrula evolved a new approach to painting. With the country already mapped by their predecessors, the second generation of Pintupi painters expressed the presence of the ancestors through illuminating specific transformative episodes at particular sites along epic songlines.

The focus of the current painting, Pulyulngya Soakage Water Site, is on the creation of nyimparra (hair-string belts) by the Tingarri.2 While seemingly prosaic, hair-string belts were signifiers of transition to adulthood in the ritual life of the Pintupi.3 Moreover, fine fibre is a rare commodity in the desert and could only be gained from spinning the relatively short fur of small mammals, or as was the case at Pulyulngya, from the hair of fellow Tingarri. Human hair is not a neutral element in Pintupi culture, for it is regarded as animate and can provide an instrumental link to the individual from whom it was gained. The delicate sinuous lines that fill this canvas evoke the strands of that precious substance. Pulyulngya Soakage Water Site can therefore be understood as evoking hair-string replicating, like strands of DNA, to encompass the whole canvas; its potency reflected in proliferation. The sinuous sign is repeated as a visual mantra, to form an encircling labyrinth—a single verse of a songline celebrating the soakage water at Pulyulngya, multiplied infinitely to fill the entire visual field.4

The precision with which this essential design is executed is emblematic of the authority Jurra has attained; it demonstrates the extent to which he has mastered Tjukurrpa, the Law.


1 John Kean, 'A Big Canvas: Mobilising Pintupi Painting', in Colliding Worlds: First Contact in the Western Desert 1932-1984, Melbourne, Museum Victoria Publishing, 2006, pp. 46-52.
2 The Tingarri are a group of ancestral heroes who travelled extensively throughout the Western Desert, encountering totemic ancestors and inaugurating ceremonies of instruction for post–initiate novices with whom the travelled.
3 Fred Myers, Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self: Sentiment, Place and Politics among Western Desert Aborigines, Washington DC, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1986, pp. 230 & 307.
4 Fred Myers, Painting Culture: The Making of an Aboriginal High Art. Durham, Duke University Press, 2002, p. 95.