Important Aboriginal + Oceanic Art
6 October 2010

Don Ellis Tjapanangka

(c.1925 - 1976)

synthetic polymer paint on composition board

91.0 x 46.0 cm


Papunya, Alice Springs
Collection of Keith Smith (inscribed verso)
Sotheby's, Melbourne, 24 June 2002, lot 172
Collection of Professor Roger Benjamin, Sydney

Catalogue text

Don Ellis Tjapananagka was described by Geoffrey Bardon as 'a quiet, heavily built Anmatjira/Aranda man who was distinguished by a very large beard and cowboy boots and hat worn day and night'.1 He was the son of Old Tom Onion and a contemporary of Kaapa Tjampitjinpa. Ellis is noted as having worked on the School mural project but is believed to have produced only ten paintings prior to his death in 1976.

The subject matter of this painting is that of a boy's initiation story. Between the period 1971 and the artist's passing, only four records exist in the Papunya Tula archives of works relating to this subject.2 Notable in the artist's style is the regular repetition of the motif for a squatting boy, distinguished by adding barbs or horns to the traditional ‘U' form. Grouped into sets of four, the initiates await the upcoming ordeal.

1. Bardon G., and Bardon J., Papunya, A Place made After the Story, The Beginnings of the Western Desert Painting Movement, p. 107 and possibly a diagram of the work p. 475 (illus.)
2. Johnson V., Lives of the Papunya Tula Artists, IAD Press, 2008, p. 46