Aboriginal Artist Mick Namarari Tjapaltjari

Mick Namarari Tjapaltjari

Born: c.1926

Deceased: 1998

Language Group: Pintupi

Country: Marnpi (South West of Mt Rennie)

Medium: Acrylic on Canvas and Linen and Board

Subjects: Kangaroo, Dingo, Wallaby, Water, Country, Mingajurra (Wild or Golden Bandicoot), Mouse, Snake, Moon, Sandhill, Bush Tucker, Children's Stories, Big Cave, Men's Ceremony

Mick Namarai was a legend. One of the original group of talented Papunya Tula artists in the early 1970's, he made history with his art. Papunya Tula alone was referred to as 'arguably the most important movement in the history of Australian painting' and Mick was noted as being the most consistently brilliant of all the painters in the movement. His passion for the art and teaching his culture was admired by the art teachers and gallery owners of his day.

Born at the rockhole at Marnpi, the sandhill country south west of Mt Rennie, Mick Namarai grew up with the traditional nomadic lifestyle of his Pintupi people. The Pintupi people, and perhaps the majority of Central Desert aborigines, have stories that are passed down through senior members of the tribe, belonging to particular sites in their 'country'. The stories have explicit and implicit lessons for behaviour and living and such places are cared for and kept alive through ceremony and visitation. Mick would travel by foot with his family across the sand hills and hostile plains of the harsh central Australian desert, constantly visiting other communities and his sacred places in the Pintupi area.

At the age of six, Mick first came across white man when he and his family arrived at Haasts Bluff to collect rations of food. Haasts Bluff at this time was a ration depot for supplying food, namely flour, jam, honey, sugar and the old square tins of tobacco, to nomadic aborigines.

Initiated at Areyonga, south east of Haasts Bluff, Mick learnt through ceremony the sacred stories to which he belonged and spent much time at these sites. Stories for which he was known to be connected to were the Two Kangaroo Men which belonged to the site of Niert, Dingo Dreaming which belonged to the site of Ngueman and Wallaby which belonged to Wanardi. After initiation, Mick was a man in the eyes of his tribe and he began a new journey for himself. Haasts Bluff had recently become a cattle station and the owners were looking for new recruits from the aboriginal population. White people were few and far between for most of the cattle stations in the outback and the aboriginals had a deep knowledge of the land. Mick was employed and took up residence at the station, where he also married his first wife. After some time, and being well trained, Mick later became a stockman at Areyonga and also Tempe Downs (South of Areyonga).

In the early 1960's, the community of Papunya was a newly established government settlement which saw men, women and children from all different tribal groups come together for work and schooling. This was also during a period in Australia where all the nomadic aborigines were being 'rounded up' so to speak, so that in the eyes of the government, they could be educated and set on the path to integration. Mick saw this as an opportunity to further his learning of Western ways and moved to Papunya. He was serving on the Papunya council with Johnny Warrangkula, Kingsley Tjungarrayi and Limpi Tjapangati when Geoffrey Bardon, a new children's art teacher for Papunya, arrived in 1971. Mick was enthusiastic to paint and he, along with other interested aboriginal men began experimenting with any materials that Bardon could afford to supply. Within a short period, more men had joined and they formed their own art group, Papunya Tula, named after its birth place. When Papunya Tula sold its first lot of paintings in Alice Springs (to fund the use of painting supplies) there was a most happy response from the Aboriginal people who saw their own culture being accepted within a white community. Bardon likened this time to 'some great, mystic adventure. The sand began to talk as it were.' Mick began painting using the typical Pintupi designs of tingari cycles but soon after was the first to venture out with a new style. Delving deep into his culture, Mick expressed many of his different sacred stories with abstract motifs, naïve figures and superimposition of dot work. His work over his circa 30 year career was acknowledged as the most consistently brilliant of all the painters.

'He had this important visual concept – a bird's eye, naïve grasp of land form and the human figure. I resented criticism of his work as being childish for it has unique and arresting charm and also a striking purity.' (Geoffrey Bardon)

His paintings have included a variety of Dreamtime stories and subjects. Mick's paintings have also bared the titles of Medicine Story, Women's Story, Bush Potato, Ceremonial Man in Whirlie, Man's Ceremony, Big Cave with Ceremonial Object, Sandhill and Water, Moon, Bush Tucker Dreaming of Banana, a variety of children's stories to name just a few, along with the more common Kangaroo, Wallaby and Dingo. Probably the most well known story that Mick painted was the Mingajurra (Wild Bandicoot) for which a version won the 1991 National Art Award.

During these early years, Mick traveled many times to Alice Springs. In May of 1972 he made a sand mosaic the size of a stove top with Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri, Charlie Tarawa Tjungurrayi and Bardon for the Alice Springs show. He traveled to Sydney with Bardon for the opening of Bardon's film 'Mick and the Moon'. This was about Mick's life and artwork, an achievement not known to any other aborigines at this time.

Two years after the founding of Papunya Tula, social conditions in Papunya were worsening. The aboriginal land rights movement was gaining momentum also and many Pintupi families were choosing to move back to their traditional lands, including many of the original group of Papunya Tula artists. Mick was one of few to have continued to reside in Papunya. Fortunately Papunya Tula was not disbanded, but was relocated, moving its headquarters to Alice Springs. This meant Mick was able to continue his art, painting on whatever means he could. His passion to paint was so strong. He painted prolifically during these years and by the early 80's his career had seen him travel most extensively. Mick and fellow famed artist Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri visited Bardon's home in Randwick, NSW, in 1978 which Mick was overjoyed at. In 1981 he traveled to Sydney for an exhibition of western desert art which was in support of an aboriginal controlled health service at Papunya. This was probably the most defining exhibition of Papunya Tula art, expanding the knowledge and publicity of such a movement to a much broader and fastidious crowd. Mick was one of few representatives to have accompanied the art.

Little is known of Mick's first marriage, though all through his painting years he was a bachelor. In 1980 he married his second wife, whom after Mick's death, carried on the legacy of painting. Elizabeth Nakamarra Marks was promised to Mick at her birth, and married Mick at the age of just 21. Finally leaving Papunya behind, Mick and Elizabeth moved to Kintore in circa 1983 where they had three children.

Mick spent much time at his Njutulny Outstation on his traditional lands of Nyunmanu and Alice Springs in the latter years of his life, and passed away in 1998. His art remains, for the entire world to see; the life, stories and culture of an Australian icon.


Mbantua Gallery Permanent Collection, Alice Springs

Artbank, Sydney

Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth

Berndt Museum of Anthropology, University of Western Australia

Flinders University of Art Museum, Adelaide

Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, Darwin

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

South Australian Museum, Adelaide

The Holmes a Court Collection, Perth

The Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica, USA

Solo Exhibitions

1991 Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne
1992 Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne


Group Exhibitions

1991 Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne
1990 National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome
1990 Paintings from the Desert, Contemporary Aboriginal Paintings
1990 Plimsoll Gallery, Centre for the Arts, Hobart, Tasmania
1990 L'ete Austrazlien a'Montpellier, France, France
1991 Central Australian Aboriginal Art and Craft Exhibition, Araluen Centre, Alice Springs
1991 Aboriginal Paintings from the Desert, Union of Soviet Artists Gallery, Moscow and Museum of Ethnographic Art, St Petersburg, Russia
1991 The Eighth National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, Darwin
1991 Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, High Court, Canberra
1991 Alice to Penzance, The Mall Galleries, The Mall, London
1991 Canvas and Bark, South Australian Museum, Adelaide
1992 Crossroads- Towards a New Reality, Aboriginal Art from Australia, National Museums of Modern Art, Kyoto and Tokyo
1993 Mick Namarari: New Works and Maxie Tjampitjinpa: Works on Paper, Utopia Arts Sydney, Stanmore
1993 Tjukurrpa, Desert Dreamings, Aboriginal Art from Central Australia(1971-1993), Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth WA
1993 Central Australian Aboriginal Art and Craft Exhibition, Araluen Centre, Alice Springs
1993 ARATJARA, Art of the First Australians, Touring: Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf: Hayward Gallery, London: Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark
1994 Australian Heritage Commission National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition, Old Parliament House, Canberra


Further References

Bardon, G. 1979, Aboriginal Art of the Western Desert, Rigy Adelaide ©
Bardon, G. 1991, Papunya Tula Art of the Western Desert, McPhee Gribble, Ringwood, Victoria ©
Caruana, W. 1993, Aboriginal Art, Thames and Hudson, London ©
Cooper, C.; Morphy, H Mulvaney, D.J.; Petersen, N. 1981, Aboriginal Australia, Australian Gallery Directors Council, Sydney ©
Crocker, A. (ed), 1981, Mr Sandman Bring Me a Dream, Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd, Alice Springs and Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd, Sydney. ©
Crossman, S and Barou, J-P (eds) 1990. L'ete Austalien a Montpellier: 100 Chefs d'Oevre de la Peinture Australienne, Musee Fabre, Montpellier, France ©; Crumlin, R., (ed), 1991, Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, Collins Dove, North Blackburn Victoria ©
Diggins, L. (ed) 1989, A Myriad of Dreaming: Twentieth Century Aboriginal Art, exhib. cat., Malakoff Fine Art Press, North Caulfield, Victoria
Isaacs, J. 1984 Australia's Living Heritage, Art of the Dreaming, Landsowne Press, Sydney ©
Isaacs, J. 1989, Australian Aboriginal Paintings, Weldon Publishing, New South Wales; Johnson, V., 1994 The Dictionary of Western Desert Artists, Craftsman House, East Roseville, New South Wales ©
Marshall-Stoneking, B. 1986-87, 'From the centre of the edge, Xpress 1 (6), 28-29©