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Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula was one of the founding members of the Western desert Aboriginal art movement. He was an innovative artist. Johnny depicted traditional ceremonial ground designs as abstract depictions on Canvass and board. He had a distinctive style characterized by layering and over-dotting. His art depicted the myths and journeys associated with the sacred waterhole at Ilpilli.
Many of his early works are spiritual and contain secret imagery meant only for the eyes of initiated men. His later works are on Canvass but maintain a very high standard.
His best paintings reverberate with the power of ancient knowledge and forms. This mix of tradition with an uncanny ability to access to our modern sensibilities captivated western audiences.
The aim of this article is to assist readers in identifying if their Aboriginal painting is by Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula. It compares examples of his work. It also gives some background to the life of this fascinating artist.
If you have a Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula Aboriginal painting to sell please contact me. If you want to know what your Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula painting is worth please feel free to send me a Jpeg. I would love to see it.

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula early Life

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula was born in 1925. He was born at Mintjilpirri, north-west of the Kangaroo Dreaming site of Ilpili waterhole. His family first met white people when he was 12. By the age of 15, he and his family moved into the Hermannsburg mission.
Johnny went through traditional initiation ceremonies outside the mission. As a young man, he worked on roads and airstrips at Hermannsburg. His road work also led him to travel to Haasts Bluff, and Mount Wedge during the 1950s.


He moved into Papunya with his first wife in the 1960s. By the early 1970s like Long Jack Phillipus and Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri he was a Papunya settlement counselor.

Early painting

In 1971 Geoff Bardon became a local school teacher at Papunya primary. He tried to encourage local children to paint in their own traditional style. When Bardon realised only older men could paint these stories he started a men’s painting group.
Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula was one of these early western desert painters. The painters’ group would congregate after work and discuss their stories and experiment. From the outset, he emerged as an innovative and prolific artist. These early works are often quite small and done on composite boards and any other material available.


Winpa the rainmaker. 

Johnny Warangula’s principal ancestral site was Kalipinypa. Kalipinypa is an impressive soakage in sandhill country some four hundred kilometers west of Alice Springs. According to Warangula, it was where Winpa the Lightning Boss sang up a huge storm from Kalipinypa. Dark clouds formed, thunder cracked, hail pelted down and torrential rain scoured the earthWinpa sang and stamped out the verses of the songline that Warangula learned when initiated. In the songline Winpa propelled the storm eastward, creating a series of waterholes. This series of waterholes now mark the path of this songline. Warangula’s life force and his artistic heritage stem from his spiritual ancestor, Winpa, and from his creation of that storm.
The Kalipinypa Storm Dreaming is an important part of a magic tradition to manifest rain. Winpa was Johnny Warangula spiritual godfather and Kalipinypa his songline.
Most of his earlier artworks are poetic depictions of Kalipinypa, the spirit, place and legend story.
His early paintings radiate power from the tightly composed and intensely vibrant surfaces
Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula intuitively transformed traditional desert ceremonial designs into inventive paintings.


He was a custodian of the Kalipinya water dreaming which he shared with Old Walter and Long Jack.







Right: Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula with a painted ceremonial shield.


Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula Middle Period

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula quickly developed a distinctive style. His style characterized by layering and over-dotting. Dots were initially used to hide and veil secret imagery. Johnny turned them into an integral part of his style. According to Bardon Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula was the first artist to used dotting as a background to his painting. This dot-dot style is now what is often recognized internationally as aboriginal art.
Bardon recognized his talent and encouraged his innovative style.
According to Bardon “Johnny was amongst the most inventive of the early Papunya artists. His ‘calligraphic line and smearing brushwork’ gave a relative solidity to the features of the land. He often interspersed animal tracks or symbolic figures into tightly synchronized compositions”.
In 1978 Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula painted a large canvas called Tingari men at Tjikarri. Tingari Men became a finalist in the Alice Art Prize. It is now a part of the Araluen Art Collection.

Johnny Tjupurrula Later Life

By the mid-1980s Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula’s eyesight began to fail. His painting became infrequent and of poorer quality. By the end of the 1990s Warangkula was old and infirm.

These later paintings are not popular with collectors and hold little value.

In the 1990’s he started painting again and produced hundreds of raw expressionistic paintings. These later paintings though were crude and paled compared to his earlier works.

He spent the last years of his life with his wife and children in Papunya. His greatest legacy is the simple but enigmatic dot-dot background. It is so strongly associated with aboriginal art that it is now almost inseparable.

Warangkula Tjupurrula name can also be spelled Warangkula Djupurrula or Warangkula Jupurrula. His Christian name was Johnny

Warangkula Tjupurrula is sometimes spelled, Warungula or Warrangula

Early Papunya Artworks and Articles

All images in this article are for educational purposes only.

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Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula Images

The following images are not the complete known work by this artist but give a good idea of his style and range.

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