Born: Lararra, Tjukurla, WA
LANGUAGE GROUP: Pintupi
COMMUNITY: Warakurna, WA
George Ward Tjungurrayi was born near the site of Lararra, southeast of Kiwirrkura circa 1945. George Ward is the youngest of three brothers; the late Yala Yala Gibbs (founding member of the Papunya art movement and senior custodian of secret/sacred men business) and Willy Tjungurrayi (one of the most sought after painters of the Western Desert). They were all sons of Pulpalpulpalnga Tjapaltjarri but had different mothers.
George's father died while he was still very young. It was only in his teenage years that he first encountered Europeans, when Jeremy Long's Welfare Branch patrol came upon his family camped by a desert waterhole. After travelling to the government settlement at Papunya - first home of the desert painting movement - Ward worked briefly as a fencer and a butcher in the community kitchen. He also met and married his wife, the somewhat formidable Nangawarra Ward Napurrula (the daughter of Charlie Ward Tjakamarra), a member of one of the desert's most dominant families. They have two children.
Once their first child was born, the couple moved west to Warburton, then on through the ranges to Docker River and to Warakurna. In 1981 George and his family moved to the newly established Pintupi capital of Walungurru (Kintore) which is across the NT border, in the looming shadow of Mount Leisler, where they still spend time today.
George observed the work of his brothers Yala Yala and Willy Tjungurrayi, who were among Papunya's Tula's leading artists in Walungurru. In 1984 George Ward first painted on canvas: a handful of elegantly "classical" concentric roundel works from that time survive. After the death of his brother, Yala Yala in 1998, the responsibility to paint fell squarely on Ward's shoulders. By this stage, he was a senior desert man: He lived deep in the world of law. He began to paint in earnest, developing his own distinct style. The canvases he began producing for Alice Springs-based Papunya Tula artists were like nothing else that had come before in the desert art movement: sombre, cerebral, full of grave intellect.
The big lake site of Kaakuratintja (Lake Macdonald), which a large group of Tingari men travelled through on their way east, is often the subject of his paintings. His meticulous geometric drawing is often offset by more rapid, shaking dotting to produce a shimmering surface. In 2004 George won the prestigious 2004 Wynne Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. George has also exhibited in many galleries throughout the past decade.
George Ward is a reticent and silent Western Desert man. These character traits can cause the odd practical problem, now that he has become one of the nation's most admired and most keenly collected artists. He's not at home in English; sees no merit in photographs; is uneasy in big, bustling towns like Alice Springs. "I'm a bush man, me," he insists, with a distinct, proud edge in his voice.
Highest Auction Price - $42,000
59 works have sold at auction since 2004
* 2004 - Wynne Prize - NSW Art Gallery
* National Gallery of Victoria - purchased 1997
* Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
* Groninger Museum, Groningen
* Museum of Victoria, Melbourne
* Robert Holmes à Court Collection, Perth
* Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, Darwin
SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS:
* 1997 - Utopia Art, Sydney - Solo show
* 1998 - Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne, Australia
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
* 1990 - Friendly Country - Friendly People, Araluen Centre for the Arts, Alice Springs, Australia
* 1991 - Araluen Centre for the Arts, Alice Springs, Australia
* 1992 - Broadbeach, Australia
* 1993 - Canberra, Australia
* 1994 - Broadbeach and Adelaide, Australia
* 1995 - Canberra, Australia
* 'Dreamings' - Tjukurrpa, Groninger Museum, Groningen,The Netherlands
* Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
* Papunya Tula Artists Pty. Ltd., Alice Springs
* Australia Utopia Art Sydney, Australia
* 1996 Adelaide Fringe Festival, Papunya Tula Artists Pty. Ltd., Adelaide
* Araluen Centre for the Arts, Alice Springs
* Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne
* Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
* Nangara. The Australian Aboriginal Art Exhibition, Brugge, Belgium
* Papunya Tula Artists Pty. Ltd., Alice Springs
* 1997 - Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne
* Geschichtenbilder, Aboriginal Art Galerie Bähr, Speyer, Germany
* Papunya Tula Artists, Alice Springs, Australia
* 1998 - The Desert Mob Show, Araluen Centre for the Arts, Alice Springs, Australian
* 1999 - Aboriginal Art, IHK Würzburg, Deutschland (in Kooperation mit Aboriginal Art Galerie Bähr, Speyer)
* 2000 - 'Art of the Aborigines', Leverkusen, Germany (in cooperation with Aboriginal Art Gallery Bahr, Speyer)
* 'Lines', Brisbane, Queensland
* Papunya Tula: Genesis and Genius, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
* Pintupi Men. Papunya Tula Artists, Alice Springs, NT, Australia
* 2001 - Art of the Pintupi, Adelaide
* Kintore and Kiwirrkura. Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne
* Palm Beach Art Fair, Palm Beach, Florida, USA Papunya Tula
* 2001 - Melbourne, Australia
* 2004 - Art Gallery of NSW- Wynne Prize
* Friendly Country - Friendly People. Kimber, R. (Hrsg.), Araluen Centre for the Arts, Alice Springs 1990,. Johnson, V.,
* Aboriginal Artists of the Western Desert. A Biographical Dictionary, Craftsman House, East Roseville 1994, ISBN 9768097817 pg204
* Nangara. The Australian Aboriginal Art Exhibition from the Ebes Collection. The Aboriginal Gallery of Dreamings (Hrsg.), Melbourne 1996,. Stourton, P. Corbally,
* Songlines and Dreamings. Lund Humphries Publ., London 1996, ISBN 0853316910
* Papunya tula Genesis & Genius - Published by AGNSW 2000 pg 120,121,180, 181, 195, 227, 281, 294
* Contemporary Aboriginal Art by Susan McCulloch. Published by Allen and Unwin 1999, pg 63
AN ARTICLE OF INTEREST:
"Going to the source",
2004, April 20th, The Australian
By Nicolas Rothwell
THIN hands reach above the ox-blood expanse of stretched canvas, touching,
stroking, defining space. Then, in black paint, with slow, steady pressure,
George Ward Tjungurrayi marks out a set of interlocking planes. He ignores
the blowing dust, the camp dogs scratching at his side, the hum of Pintupi
voices, the coming and going of women and children in the Kintore painting
compound. He lies on one side, wearing a well-worn red and black beanie. All
day long, his arm moves at unvarying speed, as his design - his dream, his
law - takes shape.
Ward, who received the Wynne Prize for landscape painting earlier this month,
is a reticent and silent Western Desert man. This cast of character can cause
the odd practical problem, now that he's become one of the nation's most admired,
and most keenly collected, artists: he's not at home in English; sees no merit
in photographs; is uneasy in big, bustling towns like Alice Springs.
"I'm a bush man, me," he insists, with a distinct, proud edge in his voice.
Ward was born, probably in the early 1950s, near the spot where the remote West
Australian bush community of Tjukurrla lies today. His father died while he was
still very young. It was only in his teenage years that he first encountered
Europeans, when a commonwealth welfare patrol came upon his family group camped by
a desert waterhole. After travelling to the government settlement at Papunya,
first home of the desert painting movement, Ward worked briefly as a fencer and
a butcher in the community kitchen. He also met and married his wife, the somewhat
formidable Nangawarra, a member of one of the desert's most dominant families.
Once their first child was born, the couple moved west to Warburton, then on
through the ranges to Docker River, to Warakurna and at last to the newly
established Pintupi capital of Kintore, in the looming shadow of Mount Leisler,
where they still spend time today.
It was here, just over a decade ago, that Ward first painted on canvas: a handful
of elegantly "classical" concentric roundel works from that time survive. But it
was only over the past three years, after the death of his brother, Yala Yala
Gibbs, a celebrated artist, that the responsibility to paint fell squarely on
Ward's shoulders. By this stage, he was a senior desert man: he lived deep in the
world of law. The canvases he began producing for Alice Springs-based Papunya Tula
Artists were like nothing else that had come before in the desert art movement:
sombre, cerebral, full of grave intellect.
National Gallery of Victoria indigenous art curator Judith Ryan quickly caught
their splendour. "He hit on this sophisticated, geometric, filled-in style almost
at once," she says. "I have the sense that he began to paint only when he was
ready, in full command of both story and country - and he seems able to harness
considerable power and visual energy almost every time he approaches a large
canvas." Once Ward has blocked out his painting's various fields, he fills each
one with parallel lines, tight-drawn. They have the feel of contours, making up
recurring patterns: wavy paths, tilted circles, chevrons. This underpainting
process can be protracted. The work still bears no resemblance to its final form.
Then he takes up his dotting stick. A transformation begins. At last, after several
days of meticulous detailing, the shimmer of the finished surface begins to show.
Ward's large-scale works depict the ancestral desert narratives, relating to the
country west of Kintore - above all, the snake-rich landscapes around Lake
MacDonald. But they are not maps, as much as expressions of a world, a logic, a
sense of how space is enlivened by spirit.
Just as the creation journeys they refer to operate on many levels, so do the
paintings: to the outside eye, they possess an austere beauty; when explained in
detail, they can serve as visual cues to a complex story-system; but all the
while their air of coherent depth comes from the underlying mental architecture
of the desert world.
This particular canvas, as the artist explains while painting, refers to an
elaborate story, also encountered in the works of various senior Pintupi figures,
most of whom have passed away. It describes journeys taken by the Tingari
ancestors - men, women, children, dogs - who once moved through the landscape,
but are all transformed, now, into rocks, or water-snakes. A cataclysmic storm
fell down upon them: black clouds, rain, lightning. Gradually, a complex
narrative emerges, which involves shifting of shapes, claypans formed by
nose-blowing, descent of figures from the sky. Many things are said of Ward's
canvases, both by him and by his immediate family.
Ward's brother-in-law, Frank, for one, advises that the artist paints some
canvases in a pinkish palette because the colour feels "strong and balanced",
while the black colour is chosen because it's "good and healthy". Then again,
black and pink stand respectively for winter and for summer landscape, and much
more. Western eyes interpret differently, and notice other things. Anita Angel,
curator of the Charles Darwin University art collection, and a prominent collector
in her own right, greatly admires Ward, while gauging his paintings largely in
formal terms. "It's instantly recognisable, he has a style, but it's more than
just a style," she says. "He's coming from somewhere deep within his mind's eye
to draw out what he does. He's not experimenting, he knows exactly what he's
doing; he has something to say about what he sees, and feels, and knows."
Angel suspects a connection between Ward's spare imagery and the incisions made
upon the material objects of desert culture: ritual items only vaguely known to
outsiders. This obscure, shielded element that so clearly lies within Ward's work
makes all the more striking his strong appeal to serious collectors of contemporary
art. Melbourne gallerist Gabrielle Pizzi, who has included significant pieces by
Ward in four recent shows, believes his work can jump the cultural divide because
of his capacity to fuse the desert tradition with an individual, almost private
quality. "He's got it," she says, "both the Pintupi grounding, and the genius to
paint in ways that are innovative and exciting. He takes desert painting to
another level. In the gallery people stop still in front of his works. They
respond to the power, the purity and the intent."
The NGV's Ryan also sees a continuing tradition beneath Ward's novel surface.
"The aesthetic's changed, the style has changed, the art's concept remains
the same," she says. "It's refined and refined over many layers, and that gives
it a reverberative shimmer, a final precision of detail. Art of this kind has
immense potency. It's not difficult at all for today's collectors to have a
passion for it, because it's minimal. It's towards the minimal edge in terms of
design, and in its lack of figuration and restricted palette."
A week has passed. The painting is complete, its structure so majestic and
interwoven it seems to outreach the eye's capacity to see. Ward leans back,
and glances down; but the artist's face is quizzical. He makes his trademark
shaking movement with his painting hand. He adjusts his beanie, his long-sleeved
shirt and close-fitting trousers, summons his dog-pack, and walks away.
Behind him is his painted mirror of the desert: it lies gleaming on the dusty ground.