Artworks by Bill Whiskey Tjapaltjarri have been widely collected and well regarded since he began painting at the age of 85. In 2004, he was introduced to painting at the Watiyawanu Artists collective where a short but successful career as an artist ensued. His paintings are often said to sit apart from that of his artistic counterparts in the way that they present the beauty of ancestral stories combined with the transformative effect of mother nature, plant-life and the animals that inhabit it.
Tjapaltjarri was born in Pirupa Akla, a small community about 130km south of Kata, in Pitjantjatjara country. As a young boy, he and his family migrated following the devastating drought of the 1920s, settling in Haasts bluff where he eventually met his wife, Colleen Nampitjinpa. Tjapaltjarri moved with his family to an outstation near Mount Liebig, a settlement called Amanturrungu in the Central Desert.
Widely respected as a Ngankari (traditional healer), many travelled from afar to be treated by him and he was celebrated in his community for the role he held as a keeper of sacred knowledge. As a protector of traditions, a prime concern of Tjapaltjarri’s was the exposure of sacred dreaming stories to public viewing and sale. Given the concerns for their cultural sensitivity, the Pitjantjatjara people were one of the last regions to formally take on the practice of painting as an artform.
Tjapaltjarri’s works are concerned with deeply powerful dreaming stories and the creation of sacred sites within his country. Like many stories from the Western Desert, Rockholes Near The Olgas 2006 acts as a cultural map. Characterised by a great multitude of white and coloured dots, Tjapaltjarri references waterways, flora and rock sites combined with deep colour harmonies, mimicking a vivid galaxy of stars, only visible in the desert night sky. This complex layering system of dotting results in a magical composition of the rock formations in Tjapaltjarri’s country, between Uluru and the Olgas (kata Tjuta) in central Australia, consequently drawing the viewer into a whirlpool of deep spiritual connections to the artist’s homeland.
Following in the success of the Western Desert painting movement, Bill Whiskey Tjapaltjarri made his mark independently, experimenting with painting techniques outside of what was unfolding at nearby Papunya Tula. Whiskey has been internationally recognised for the way his paintings intuitively respond to his specific cultural experience, producing a radiant and majestic body of work exhibited internationally in Copenhagen, Singapore and London and held in public collections including the Art Gallery of South Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria.
Lucy Foster / Senior Art Specialist
Banner Image (detail): BILL WHISKEY TJAPALTJARRI (c.1920-2008) (Pitjantjatjara Language Group)
Rockholes Near The Olgas 2006 | $20,000-30,000