Thomas Tjapaltjarri

Thomas Tjapaltjarri

Date of Birth: c. 1964

Region: Marua, East of Kiwirrkura, W.A 

Language: Pintupi

Thomas Tjapaltjarri was born sometime around 1964 in the Gibson Desert, Western Australia. Along with his brothers Warlimpirrnga and Walala, Thomas is collected worldwide as significant figure in the Western Desert art movement.

It was in late 1984 that Thomas and several other members of his Pintupi tribe walked out of the remote wilderness of the Gibson Desert in Western Australia and made contact with European society for the first time. Described as 'The Lost Tribe', he and his family created international headlines. Until that day in 1984, Thomas and his family had lived a traditional and nomadic life in a hunter-gatherer society. They were the last of the nomadic aborigines to be assimilated to the community known as Kiwirrkura and were reunited with relatives they had not seen for twenty five years. Their intimate knowledge of the land, its flora and fauna and waterholes allowed them to survive, as their ancestors had for thousands of years. It is this sacred landscape with its significant sites that Thomas so strikingly describes in his paintings.

Thomas paints simple, geometric designs and uses a dotting technique shared with other Pintupi artists including his brothers, Warlimpirrnga and Walala, and with Willy and George Ward Tjungurrayi. Thomas's works explore the stories of the Tingari cycle, using a highly graphic language to speak of his country and ceremonial sites.

The content of Thomas’ work explores the Tingari Cycle, a series of sacred and secret mythological cycles, which are associated with the artist's many dreaming sites. These Dreamings are the locations of significant rockholes, sandhills, sacred mountains and water soakages in the Gibson Desert.

His Tingari speaks of the epic journey of ancestors during the Tjukurrpa (Creation Era), where Tingari ancestor beings gathered at a series of sites for Malliera (initiation) ceremonies. They travelled vast stretches of the country, performing rituals at specific sites that in turn created the diverse natural features of the land. The creation stories and rituals are venerated in the song cycles and ceremonies of today, forming part of the teachings of the post initiatory youths, whilst also providing explanations for contemporary customs. The content of these stories is an entitlement bestowed on the initiated men and remains secret knowledge to this day. Thomas' work is widely collected both in Australia and overseas.