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REGION Kalipinypa, Central Australia
Dennis Nelson was born in Alice Springs. He is the son of Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula, who was among the first Aboriginal men to paint their dreaming stories on canvas in the early 1970s and one of the founders of the desert painting movement. Denis has been painting since the late 1980s. He paints emu and water dreaming from his country at Kalipinpa (about 200 km north west of Papunya) as well as the dreaming his father has taught him.
His second wife Gladys (Yawitji) Napanangka, who was among the first group of women at Papunya in the early 1980s to paint for Papunya Tula Artists. Dennis identifies with his mother’s Warlpiri language group rather than Johnny’s (Pintupi). Gladys had four children from her previous marriage, and Johnny had two daughters Narlie and Maggie from his. Together Gladys and Johnny had six more children: Dennis, Mike, and four daughters, Candy, Minnie, Emma and another who passed away.
Dennis attended school in Papunya and remembers going “after school or smoko time” to the Old Town Hall building alongside the school classrooms to watch the painters at work. He says his father taught him to paint: “Use brush – cut ‘im – he learn me. When I’m a little boy he sat me down in the gallery”. Dennis’ paintings are strongly reminiscent of his famous father’s early works: “I carry on his style. I know.”
Johnny also taught him his stories: the Kalipinypa Water Dreaming with “lots of birds playing round after the rain”; the “Death Spirit [that] comes from under ground in the middle of the desert” and Tjikari where the “Men Dreaming [are] still there now”. Dennis said his father took him and his brothers and sisters to these places – to Kalipinypa via the shortcut through Nyirripi and to Tjikari in the middle of the desert.
In the school holidays Johnny’s family went hunting for bush tucker, goanna and kangaroo and later “we used to drive round everywhere – Mt Liebig, Kintore, Kiwirrkura – everywhere.” Denis speaks very good English and has worked as a teacher at the Papunya School for ten years helping to overcome the language barrier for the children. He says he enjoys the school holidays as he can spend more time expressing his traditional beliefs through his paintings, he occasionally painted for Papunya Tula Artists in the early 1990s, then for Warumpi Arts before its closure in 2004. He lives with his wife Rachel Napaltjarri at Five Mile Outstation.
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Harvey Galleries was founded by the Harvey family in 1994 with an eye to establish a dynamic and inclusive contemporary art space on the North Shore of Sydney. For almost three decades we have expanded our reach to over three gallery locations and an ever expanding stable of the best artists Australia has to offer.
Harvey Galleries would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past, present and emerging.