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Contemporary art

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art

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Emu dreaming



Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula


circa 1920 - 12 Feb 2001

Language group

Luritja, Central Desert region


Born at Minjilpirri, south of the salt lake Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay), Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula's childhood was spent living a traditional lifestyle in the desert. Later, the family moved to Hermannsburg Mission, where Tjupurrula worked as a labourer constructing the airstrip. During this time, Tjupurrula passed through the initiation ceremonies for manhood. He then moved to Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff) for construction work, and later worked in Watiyawanu (Mount Liebig), Yuendumu and Mount Wedge. In 1954 he was chosen, along with Nosepeg Tjupurrula, to meet Queen Elizabeth II in Toowoomba, Queensland. In 1958 he travelled to the country around Wilkinkarra with Welfare Branch patrol officer Ted Evans, visiting Tjikari, a rockhole site north of Sandy Blight Junction. Tjupurrula had returned to lkuntji when the bulk of the population was moved across to the new settlement of Papunya in 1960. For the rest of his life, Tjupurrula lived mostly in Papunya with his wife Gladys Napanangka and their extended family. His principal homeland site was Kalipinypa, a 'native' well north-west of Sandy Blight Junction.

Tjupurrula was serving on the Papunya Council when Geoffrey Bardon arrived at the settlement and began encouraging the older men to paint their traditional designs. Tjupurrula's work from the mid-1970s – such as 'Emu Dreaming', 1974 is typical of the experimentation that marked the founding Papunya Tula artists' development of a simplified iconography. This more painterly approach signified their expanding encounter with the outside world. From the movement's earliest days, Tjupurrula developed a distinctive personal style of overdotting, often of several layers, creating effects that Bardon called 'tremulous illusion'.

'Johnny W' remained a major force in the movement until the mid-1980s, when his output was reduced by failing eyesight. In 1984, the inaugural Director of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, James Mollison chose to be photographed alongside Tjupurrula's large canvas 'Yala Dreaming', 1982, and declared the work of the Papunya artists to be the 'finest abstract art ever produced in this country'.

Vivien Johnson in 'Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004

© Art Gallery of New South Wales


Place where the work was made

Yei Yei Bore Papunya Northern Territory Australia



Media category


Materials used

synthetic polymer paint and PVA glue on plywood


50.7 x 45.4 cm board

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased 1997


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula

Artist profile

Works in the collection



Where the work was made
Yei Yei Bore

Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


Vivien Johnson, Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia, 'Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula', pg. 162, Sydney, 2004, 162, 163 (colour illus.).