Willy Tjungurrayi

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BORN circa 1936

REGION Western desert


Born at Patjantja, south-west of Lake Mackay, Willy was raised by Charlie Tarawa, who was Willy’s father’s brother.  Willy was raised ‘in the bush’-‘naked’ with ‘only nulla nulla and woomera’. The brother of respected painters Brandy and George “Hairbrush” Tjungarrayi and the late Yala Yala Gibbs Tjungurrayi, at Patjantja, southwest of Lake Mackay in the Northern Territory. He came into Haast’s Bluff in 1956 with other Pintupi people, and began painting for Papunya Tula Artists in 1976. By the 1980s Willy was recognized as a senior Pintupi painter, and he joined the movement of return to the Pintupi homelands. Willy began painting for Papunya Tula Artists in 1976 during the ’80s since emerged  as one of the senior Pintupi painters.  His country lies a short distance to the south west of Kintore, around Kulkuta,  Tjukula, Warrabri, Malka, Yumari, Tjitikulpa and Patjanytja. One of the most sought after painters of the Western Desert, Willy Tjungurrayi is a senior Pintupi man, entitled by his ancestry and communal position to paint the sacred and secret Tingari cycle. He has been acknowledged as one of the great colourists of contemporary Aboriginal painting.

Stories from the Tingari Dreaming song cycle, and the land around Haast’s Bluff, Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay) and Kaakuratintja (Lake MacDonald), are Willy Tjungarrayi’s two great linked themes. For some subjects Willy paints dozens of dotted Roundels (concentric circles), linked by parallel lines, the spaces between them filled with bright, flat primary and mixed colours, a depiction of the travels and stopping places of the Tingari Men, an image of the rhythmic repetition of the songs associated with the Tjukurpa (Creation era or Dreaming).

More recently, Tjungarrayi’s paintings feature hundreds of endless wavy lines in an ochre monochrome shimmer across the canvas on a pale background. These paintings illustrate (or witness, might be more correct) the sand hills and the fierce hailstorm that killed the ancestral Tingari Men in the Dreamtime. Willy Tjungarrayi’s work is highly sought after, and has been acquired for many major private and public collections.

He now lives at Walungurru. It was Charlie’s camels which eventually brought the family in to Haasts Bluff in the late ’50s and from there to Papunya. In the early ’80s he joined the move back to the Pintupi homelands and now lives with his family in Kintore.


1982 Georges Gallery, Melbourne.
1982    Brisbane Festival, 1982, Mori Gallery, Sydney
1983    Papunya: paintings from the Central Australian Desert, touring exhibition,      America and Europe.
1985    Dot and Circle, a retrospective survey of the Aboriginal acrylic paintings of Central Australia, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne
1987    Art and Aboriginality, Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth, UK
1988    Australian Aboriginal Graphics from the Collection of the Flinders University Art Museum.
1989    Aboriginal Art: The Continuing Tradition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
1991    The Painted Dream: Contemporary Aboriginal paintings from the Tim and Vivien Johnson Collection, Auckland Art Gallery and Te Whare Taonga o Aoteroa National Art Gallery, New Zealand
1994    Central Australian Aboriginal Art and Craft Exhibition, Araluen Centre, Alice Springs.
1994    Yiribana, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
2004 Papunya Tula Artists 2004: Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne; Australian Aboriginal Art Collector’s Exhibition, Flinders Lane Gallery, Melbourne.
2003 Kintore Kiwirrkura 2003: Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne.


Aboriginal Art Museum, The Netherlands.
Artbank, Sydney.
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide.
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
Parliament House Art Collection, Canberra.
The Holmes a Court Collection, Perth.
The Kelton Foundation

  • Willy Tjungurrayi, Sandhills

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