Important Aboriginal + Oceanic Art
4 April 2012


(c.1918 - 2001)

synthetic polymer paint on composition board

45.5 x 30.0 cm

Private sale

Consignment no. 5 to the Stuart Art Centre, Painting no. 47
Collected by a Native Welfare Officer in 1971
Private collection, New South Wales
Caruana and Reid, Sydney
Private collection, New South Wales

Catalogue text

In his book Aboriginal Art of the Western Desert, Geoffrey Bardon describes the painting of Johnny Warangkula as of major significance: 'they are strictly Aboriginal stories without conscious European influence and yet they can be measured by the modern Aesthetic... his work has anecdotal intimacy, a candid freshness and spontaneity that beguiles by its individuality'.1 Portrayed by Bardon as a happy, expressive man who was a tireless worker, Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula is credited with developing a dotting method that was particularly admired and was later adopted by other painters ultimately becoming the convention for Western desert painting. Bardon described this style as 'tremulous illusion' where overlays of stippling and dotting gives the paintings a three-dimensional quality.2

Old Man's Corroboree Story, 1971, tells a segment of the Old Man's Story about the travels of two ceremonial (Medicine) men, a story Warangkula told many times in varying configurations. In this part of the story, the roundels represent the old men's camps, the surrounding shapes are wind-breaks, the dots stars and the two verticals on the left are spears. The two men have made their camp, created shelter from the wind and are sleeping under the stars.

Utilising a technique of overlaying layers of fine dots, Warangkula established an analogy between broken patterns of dotting and vegetation and topography. As Judith Ryan notes, Warangkula was 'the first to devise a style that existed on an aesthetic plane... by colour mixing and layering of dots laden with white, he obscured symbols of narrative or signs of secret men's business in ways that prefigure the dot field paintings of Emily Kngwarreye'.3

1. Bardon, G., Aboriginal Art of the Western Desert, Penguin Books, Melbourne, 1991 p. 53
2. Bardon and Bardon, p. 157
3. Laverty, C., Laverty, E., and Kleimeyer, J., Beyond Sacred: Recent painting from Australia's remote Aboriginal communities: The collection of Colin and Elizabeth Laverty, Hardie Grant Books, Prahran and Bambra Press, p. 36