Abstract Australis
Abstract Australis
Brighton, Victoria 3186 Australia
Ph: 0407 501 808
ABN: 66 086 690 771
[email protected]

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Michael NELSON (Tjakamarra) (b. c.1946)

'Hidden Art Comes In From Desert' 

'Visit the Museum And Art Gallery - Northern Territory' 

Photo of Artist

Michael Nelson Tjakamarra (also referred to as Jagamarra or Jakamarra) is a Senior Warlpiri Tribesman and an Elder of the Papunya Community in Central Australia. He was born at Pikilyi (Vaughan Springs) in the Northern Territory around 1946 and was raised in Aboriginal custom into the ancient bush culture. Instead of clothes, Tjakamarra proudly wore the mantle of the Dreaming. The young man’s first glimpse of a white man at Mt Doreen station sent him scurrying nervously into the bush. As a young boy, Tjakamarra was taught sand paintings, body paintings and shield paintings by his grandfather. He lived at Haasts Bluff for some time with the same family group as Long Jack Phillipus Tjakamarra. His family then took him to Yuendumu’s mission school to gain a European education. As his parents were both Warlpiri, and his father was an important tribal elder and medicine man within the Yuendumu community, it was only natural that the young Tjakamarra grew up with the traditional cultural values that continue to influence his paintings today. After initiation, Tjakamarra left school at the age of thirteen and found work buffalo shooting in Kakadu, driving trucks and droving cattle. He joined the Army before returning to Yuendumu. After his father's death in 1976, he moved on to Papunya where he married his wife, Marjorie. While working in the local government store and Council, Tjakamarra began studying the work of many of the older artists such as Billy Stockman and Old Mick Tjakamarra.  Initially tutored by his uncle, Jack Tjupurrula, the young artist quickly developed his own style and began painting intently from 1983.

Michael Nelson Tjakamarra is recognized as a master desert painter for his depiction of several Dreamings in one painting. For Tjakamarra, it is crucial that there is an understanding of the Dreaming stories that are represented in his paintings: he believes that his paintings, without these stories, would be meaningless. His Dreamings include the Possum, Snake, Two Kangaroos, Rock Wallaby, Bush Banana, Honey Ant and Yam.

In 1984 Tjakamarra won the Inaugural National Aboriginal Art Award with his painting ‘Three Dreamings’. This award saw the artist’s reputation begin to rapidly rise.

Tjakamarra exhibited his work in the 1986 Biennale of Sydney and was featured in the British art documentary, ‘The State of the Art’. In 1987 Tjakamarra was invited to paint a major work (27’long) for the foyer of Sydney’s Opera House and he chose to paint his ‘Possum Dreaming’ story. In 1988 he was commissioned to design a 196 sq-metre mosaic in the main forecourt of Australia’s new Parliament House in Canberra. The work was based on his ‘Kangaroo and Emu’ dreaming. Tjakamarra was presented to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, when she officially opened the building. During 1988-89, Tjakamarra’s “Five Stories” was reproduced on the catalogue cover for the Asia Society’s exhibition, ‘Dreamings, The Art of Aboriginal Australia’, in New York. Tjakamarra travelled to New York City with Papunya elder Billy Stockman Japaltjarri for the opening of the show, taking part in ground painting exhibitions and performing a ceremonial dance with Billy Stockman.

In 1989 Tjakamarra held his first solo exhibition in Melbourne at the Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi and hand-painted an M3 racing car in the BMW Art Car Project. In 1993 Tjakamarra was awarded the Australia Medal in recognition of his services to Aboriginal Art.  Since 2000, Tjakamarra has used bold, free flowing designs in his representations of the Warlpiri mythology. In 2001 he was Finalist in the 18th Telstra NATSIAA.

Michael Nelson Tjakamarra is, at heart, a true Walpiri man, a philosopher and an eloquent advocate of Western Desert viewpoints on the internationally famous art movement, of which he is acknowledged as having played a fundamental role. The artist has always been keen to explain the essence of the Dreaming and how his paintings interpret and relate to the stories. As the custodian of many Dreaming stories, he believes it is his responsibility to preserve, in paint and print, the stories that will help educate others about his tradition and culture. Michael Nelson Tjakamarra is passionate about passing down family values and culture to his children: six girls and one boy. "When I paint I always have my children around me. I talk to them and tell them stories about our country. We often sit around the campfire, telling stories. I want to pass on my culture. I'm proud of my work” says Tjakamarra.

"Aboriginal Art is different to Non-Aboriginal Art. They make it up in their imagination but ours are not just pretty pictures. Our stories are given to us to carry and pass on to our children. Non-Aboriginal people have to be prepared, when they see our paintings, to learn something about Aboriginal culture" says Tjakamarra.

Tjakamarra is widely recognized as one of Australia’s most noteworthy and prolific artists. His biography, ‘Michael Jagamara Nelson’ by Vivien Johnson was published in 1997.

Michael Nelson Tjakamarra’s group and solo exhibitions include: Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne; Utopia Art, Sydney; Australian National Gallery, Canberra; Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and John Webber Gallery, New York.  Today, Tjakamarra has achieved worldwide recognition and his work is represented across many major national and international collections including: National Gallery of Australian, Canberra; Australian Museum, Sydney; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Darwin; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Parliament House Collection; Powerhouse Museum, Sydney and Broken Hill Art Gallery. Tjakamarra’s works are represented in major private and public exhibitions internationally including Europe, Asia and USA.


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