Artist Tjumpo Tjapanangka

Tjumpo Tjapanangka (1929-2007) was a highly regarded lawman and Maparn (traditional healer) who spent his childhood in the western Australian desert. He spoke enthusiastically of hunting for goanna, echidna, wallaby, and wild cat, and how he would assist in building mud shelters for the wet season. He came to Balgo - a small Aboriginal community in Western Australia - as a result of a local priest, who wanted to attract Aboriginal people to his Mission there. Tjapanangka began painting in 1986 at the age of 57, and became one of the most recognised and sought-after artists from "Warlayirti Artists," a non-profit corporation in Balgo which is a hub of creative activity in the town.

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Here we have the painting titled "Wiringurru Painting, The Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia," by Tjumpo Tjapanangka, which served as the inspiration for our board game, The Tjapanangka Desert Game. The painting is made with synthetic polymer paint on canvas, and dates from 1998. We saw this painting in an exhibition titled "No Boundaries: Aboriginal Australian Contemporary Abstract Painting" at the Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, NY.

Wiringurru Painting, The Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia, by Tjumpo Tjapanangka

This is another painting by Tjapanangka which was included in the same museum exhibition, and as you can see, it was being exhibited in a special frame which allowed it to sit flat on the floor. This painting is titled "Wati Kutjarra at the Water Site of Mamara," and dates from 2000.

The big question, however, was: why is this painting being displayed on the floor? In all of the museum exhibitions we've ever seen, we don't recall ever seeing a painting displayed this way before. The explanation was rather simple: Tjapanangka made this painting with the canvas laying flat on the floor, so the curator wanted the audience to be able to see the viewpoint that Tjapanangka had as he was making the art work.

The museum further explained: "This presentation recognizes the method of the painting's creation, in which the artist works seated on the canvas. It also emphasizes one of the important origins of Western Desert painting in 'ground works,' made with colorful plant fibers on ground cleared for ceremonial purposes."

In this case, the mention of the "ground work" for "ceremonial purposes" is background information to help us understand the method of painting flat on the ground, but in Tjapanangka's case, this is synthetic polymer paint on canvas, which was definitely intended for sale as an art work.

When you look at the size of the canvas, however, and the level of detail in the piece, I just wonder: how did he sit on it while painting it and not smudge it?

painting by Tjumpo Tjapanangka displayed on the floor

Make sure to check out our printable board game, The Tjapanangka Desert Game, in our Printables section.

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