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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

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula Value

My Database contains 57 artworks by Johnny that vary in value from $300 AUD – $212,000 AUD.

Many factors go into influencing the value of an artwork much more than only the visual image. The provenance, date painted size and importance of the work within the canon of work are also often crucial factors

If you have a Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula artwork and wish to get a valuation please send me an image. Please include the size and any labels or extra information available.

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula Artworks explained

Rain, lightning and stars at night

This painting tells the story of rain and lightning rain and lightning and stars at night at Kaliginypa. The open circles represent the stars. The closed circles are caves in the rock. To the right is a ancestral spirits’s track.

Winpa, an ancestral figure who generated a huge storm at Kalipinypa he is present but hidden. If you look carefully a procession his red footprints are partly concealed with white dots on the right-hand side of this work.

Warangula’s created this first major work, Rain, lightning and stars at night in a style more consistent with works produced in mid to late 1972. Covering secret sacred meaning with dots lead to a dotting technique now inseperable from Aboriginal Art.

The painter overlays and intersecting sinuous lines trace the movement of waterways by the falling rain.

Painted 1971, synthetic polymer paint on chipboard.

Women camped at Kampurrula

Women’s Dreamings are rare in the corpus of paintings by Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula. This painting features two women’s camps in luxuriant fields of bush tucker nourished by the rains created by the ancestor beings.

The artist well known for his early paintings of Rain and Water Dreamings of Kalipinypa, Tjikari and Ilpilli. Kampurarrpa (Kampurrula) is a site close to Ilpilli in the Ehrenberg Ranges. The painting shows two camps; the women, symbolised by the double-U forms either side of a set of concentric circles,. Their equipment of digging sticks and oval carrying dishes coolamon are clearly shown. Their footprints, leaving and returning to the camps suggest a series of foraging expeditions. These footprints also mark the choreography of dance ceremony.

The set of concentric circles that run vertically through the composition represent waterholes. The continuous lines that weave around these relate symbolize rain and flowing water. The red lines that meander laterally and diagonally across the picture possibly represent a vine (ngalyipi). This vine is woven by women into ceremonial dress.

Painted synthetic polymer paint on board 58.0 x 43.0 cm

Mala Rufous Hare Wallaby Dreaming

Mala, Rufous Hare Wallaby  distinctive inhabitant of the Western Desert. The hare-sized animal sheltered in needle-sharp tussocks of mature spinifex.

Fire was used by the Pintupi to flush Mala from cover, so hunters could dispatch the wallabies as they fled.

Johnny Warangula was intimately associated with the Mala ancestors. He inherited custodianship of the Dreaming from his father and grandfather, who were born at Tjikarri.  There are two distinct narratives associated with Tjikarri. The first involves the Nananana men hunting Mala with fire. The second the journey of an old sorcerer who, with the aid of a Mala horde, pursues a giant dingo-like creature, Matinpilangu.

Mala, Rufous Hare Wallaby Dreaming Painted 1971 with synthetic polymer powder paint on composition board  23.0 x 34.5 cm

The Mala Dreaming provides an iconographic representation of ceremonial ground and the movements of performers as they reenact the deeds of the Mala ancestors. The central motif provides a planar view of the ceremonial area. U-shapes are figures seated around an attenuated performance area. The tracks of Mala ancestors are described on either side of the motif, moving from the bottom to the top of the board. Instrumentally, the tracks on either side of the central motif are subtly different.

The leftmost track shows a Mala ancestor moving slowly, dragging its tail (straight line) and using its front paws (E-shapes) for support. It lifts its large rear legs in the typical mode of Australian macropods (as indicated by V-shaped footprints). The movement of the Mala ancestor on the right is more distinct. As the animal approaches the concentric circle, it rests one clenched paw on the ground, (to look around?). It then placing both front paws on the earth on the rim of the roundel (as if to drink). The Mala then hops over the circle, resting its front right paw on the ground again (to check the scene?) before continuing. In the ceremonial context, decorated performers re-enact the actions of the Mala ancestors.

Based on the description by John Kean

Early Papunya Artworks and Articles

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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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