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Turkey Tolson: Straightening spears

Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula was an early Papunya Western desert Artist. Unlike many early artists, he continued painting for over 30 years. He was the chairman of Papunya Tula for over a decade. He is best known for a series of paintings called straightening spears.

In the early part of his career, Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula painted but failed to stand out from his peers. It was in his later life when aboriginal art moved away from traditional symbology to an increasing abstraction that his art came into its own.

The aim of this article is to assist readers in identifying if their Aboriginal painting is by Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula. It compares examples of his work. It also gives some background to the life of this artist.

Haasts Bluff

Turkey Tolson Life

Turkey Tolson was born in a creek bed under the shade of a tree about eight kilometers east of the mission of Haasts Bluff around 1940. Like most Aboriginals around Haasts bluff at the time, he worked as a stockman and in construction. In 1959 on a cattle drive that took him to Mount Leibig he visited his people’s home country for the first time. At Mt Leigbig in he underwent full initiation into aboriginal manhood. He belonged to the Pintupi people of the western desert and belonged to the Tjupurrula skin group.

Turkey married and soon afterward in 1961 moved to the Papunya settlement. He worked in building the new settlement and lived there with his young family.

When Geoff Barton a school teacher started a local men’s painting group Turkey joined as one of it’s youngest members.

Turkey Tolsen art

In the early part of his career Turkey Tolsen had commitments to the community and to his family. He was not as prolific as many of the other artists in the papunya painting group. His early paintings failed to stand out compared to those of Kaapa Johnny Warangula or Clifford Possum.

Being a younger member of the group he painted less boldly and more generically than most of his peers. This cautious approach and slow but steady creative momentum were the hallmarks of what became an enduring career.

In the 1980’s he traveled to Paris with Joseph Jurra Tjapaltjarri. While in Paris he created a sand painting as part of the Peintres Aborigines d’Australie exhibition.

In the 1980s unlike many Papunya artists Tolsen experimented with less traditional mediums. He produced prints he created for the Utopia Suite and multicolor woodblocks.

His prints were included in the comprehensive survey of Aboriginal printmaking New Tracks, Old Land.

Turkey Tolson became Chairman of Papunya Tula in 1985 and held this role until 1995. During this time even though he was chairman he painted for a variety of outside dealers from the early 1990’s onward.

Turkey Tolsen Straightening spears

It wasn’t until the 1990’s Turkey became one of the Papunya’s best-known artists. He and Mick Namarari were breaking new ground where traditional symbology was no longer needed in aboriginal art. Western desert Aboriginal art was increasingly abstract using just dots.

Desert sand Ripples

He is best known for paintings called straightening spears. These paintings are by far his most collectible.

His straightening spear paintings comprise of rows of dots in natural desert colors. These lines of dots have subtle modulations and an ochre tone that evoke a desert landscape.

It was this departure from aboriginal symbology to purer abstraction that made him one of the most influential artists of the Papunya Tula movement.

His artworks feature in many landmark exhibitions. These include

Contemporary Australian Art 1981 at the Pacific Asia Museum in Los Angeles,

Contemporary Australian Art 1981 at the Pacific Asia Museum in Los Angeles

The Face of the Centre at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1985

Papunya Tula: Genesis and Genius at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2000

Aratjara: Art of the First Australians

Other Aboriginal Art and Artists

All images in this article are for educational purposes only.

This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which was not specified by the copyright owner.

Turkey Tolson Images

The following images of the Artworks of Turkey Tolsen are not a complete list of his works. They do however give a good idea of the style and variety of this Aboriginal Artist.

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