Important Aboriginal Art
26 March 2014


(c.1920 - 2008)

synthetic polymer paint on canvas

127.5 x 208.5 cm

inscribed verso: artist's name, title, size and
Watiyawanu Artists cat. WAT 77-06132

$45,000 - 55,000
Sold for $54,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 34 - 26 March 2014, Melbourne

Watiyawanu Artists of Amunturrungu, Mount Liebig
Japingka Gallery, Perth
Private collection, Melbourne

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Japingka indigenous Fine Art Gallery.

Catalogue text

'That cocky and crow and eagle that's Whiskey, that's the essence of Whiskey, that's his spirit, that's who he is.'1

Rockholes and country near the Olgas is a fine example of Bill Whiskey Tjapaltjarri's large scale, shimmering aerial paintings of his birth country Pirupa Akla, located west of Uluru. Completed in 2006, when the artist was in his eighties, in what was only his second year of practise, this work refers not only to the physical landscape, but also the spirits residing there. Namely the White Cockatoo story which originates from Pirupa Akla, a creation story of the cockatoo, eagle and their adversary, the crow. The battle between the birds resulted in the formation of various topographical features, such as the rock holes, depended upon by the artist and his family, and a constant focus in Tjapaltjarri's work.

Tjapaltjarri commenced his art practise in 2004, during his time living in the outstation of Amunturrungu (Mount Liebig). He requested painting materials from the Watiyawanu Artists of the Amunturrngu Aboriginal Corporation, which at the time was made up almost exclusively of women artists. Gaining recognition immediately, for his immense, vibrant paintings and unique style, he embarked on a prolific four year painting career, creating an outstanding body of work, until his death in 2008.

Rockholes and country near the Olgas, like most of Tjapaltjarri's work, offers an aerial view of the country around Ayers Rock, in the tradition of ancient sand drawing.2 The predominantly white, as well as vibrant blue and ochre dots are placed in considered, varying density, layered over a deep, earthy red, giving the painting a remarkable shimmering effect, mimicking the bright, intense light and colours experienced in the desert landscape. The stippled paint application evokes the effect of dazzling light reflecting off sand and quartz, sparkling and shimmering, while at the same time suppressing the colours of the landscape beneath. Tjapaltjarri's covering of white dots, particularly where density is increased, also alludes to the scattering of cockatoo feathers, referencing his significant recurrent White Cockatoo dreaming story.

Finally, it is his spiritual experiences as a respected traditional healer (Ngangkari), specifically his out of body travels, where he would fly above the land at night, which no doubt influenced the aesthetic style and thematic content of his detailed and layered aerial paintings of the landscape. Interweaving the mystical with his highly practical knowledge of the land gained through travelling much of the Northern Territory by foot, Tjapaltjarri's work transcends the realm of the representational to present both the intimately detailed physical world and the spiritually unrestrained stories of his birth country and the interconnectedness of the two.

1. The artist, in documentary Thornton, R., That Old Man, 2009, distributed by Thorney Vision
2. From Certificate of Authenticity, Japingka Indigenous Fine Art Gallery