Biography of Ronnie Tjampitjinpa

Ronnie Tjampitjinpa was born some time around 1943 in the region near Muyinnga, about 100 km west of the Kintore Ranges in Western Australia (and approximately 500 km west of Alice Springs). His family traveled extensively across Pintupi territory, moving through this region and also around Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay) which straddles the Western Australia – Northern Territory border. He was initiated into Aboriginal Law at Yumari, near his birthplace.

Ronnie originally came in from the bush at Yuendumu and later joined relatives living in Papunya, where he worked as a labourer, helping with the fencing of the airfield.

He started painting around 1971 at the time that the desert art movement began in Papunya and over several years he moved between Papunya, Yuendumu and Mt Doreen Station. Ronnie’s work follows the Pintupi style of strong circles joined together by connecting lines relating to the people, country and the Dreamtime.

Ronnie Tjampitjinpa painting
The primary images in Ronnie’s work are based on the Tingari Cycle which is a secret song cycle sacred to initiated men. The Tingari are Dreamtime Beings who travelled across the landscape performing ceremonies to create and shape the country associated with Dreaming sites. The Tingari ancestors gathered at these sites for Maliera (initiation) ceremonies. The sites take the form of, and are located at, significant rockholes, sand hills, sacred mountains and water soakages in the western desert.

Ronnie Tjampitjinpa painting

Tingari may be poetically interpreted as song-line paintings relating to the songs (of the people) and creation stories (of places) in Pintupi mythology. Ronnie can be considered amongst the first wave of artists effectively linking such ancient stories with modern mediums.
During his time at Papunya Ronnie talked of returning to his traditional country. This became possible when Kintore was established in 1981 and Ronnie moved there with his family shortly afterwards.

He has been a committed artist since his earliest involvement with the central desert art movement and has since emerged as one of the region’s major painters. Today, Ronnie remains an important influence on a new generation of painters.

Ronnie’s works first appeared in Papunya Tula exhibitions during the 1970s, then in commercial art galleries in Sydney and Melbourne throughout the 1980s, including successive exhibitions at Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi from 1987 to 1990. In 1988, he won the Alice Springs Art Prize and he had his first solo exhibition in Melbourne in 1989.

The artist was later selected for inclusion in major representative Aboriginal survey shows including: Flash Pictures at the Australian National Gallery; Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami; and other noteworthy exhibitions in Paris, Moscow, St Petersburg, Düsseldorf and Munich.

His work is held in many public galleries and private collections, including the National Gallery of Australia and all the state galleries.

(Source: Aboriginal Artists of the Western Desert: a biographical dictionary by Vivien Johnson 1994).