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Anatjari No. I Tjampitjinpa

Anatjari No. I Tjampitjinpa

1927 - 1999

Anatjari No. 1, Anitjari, Minjina, Minyina, Jampijinpa, Tjampitjimpa

Anatjari Tjampitjinpa was born and grew up at Ilyipi in Pintupi country west of Kiwirrkura and east of Jupiter Well in Western Australia. In 1964 he moved to Papunya with his three wives and their children as well as his brothers, Old Walter and Yarakula. Other members of his immediate family, including Milliga Napaljarri and Dinny Campbell, moved north to Balgo Hills. His son, Ray James Jangala, recalls that when he was about five years old they were found at Mukala by the Welfare Patrol, led by Jeremy Long, with Nosepeg Tjupurrula and a Tjampitjinpa from Papunya. Although he was an athletic warrior, Anatjari and his family had been surviving only on seed damper as there was nothing to eat or drink, the waters having dried up and the grasses having died. Though the Pintupi were the last group of Aboriginal people to be encountered by Europeans, the impact of settlement was more devastating than that experienced by other areas such as Arnhem Land. The government policy up to 1966 saw desert people from different tribal groups brought into designated Government settlements, thus ‘bringing them together in the most inappropriate social circumstances with detrimental effects on their cultural practice' (Caruana 1993: 98). This negative portrayal of migration does not fully depict Anatjari’s experience however. Having moved to Balgo during the early 1970’s to spend time with other members of his family, he returned only occasionally to Papunya, by which time the painting movement was well underway. He created only a few pencil and watercolour drawings for Geoffrey Bardon before moving between Balgo and Docker River and did not join the Papunya artists until the mid 1970’s, when he was lured by the collective identity of painters, joining together and influencing each other. This cross influence led to experimentation with the properties of paint and the development of distinct personal styles, increasingly distanced from their ceremonial origins. The basic elements of Western Desert art are ‘limited in number but broad in meaning‘ (Caruana 1993: 98) with the ceremonies and stories associated with the travels of the Tingari ancestors remaining a constant feature of Pintupi iconography. Anatjari favoured the most literal imagery, which featured dismembered circles floating above an unorganised plane of dotted colour. These ‘not only radiate centrifugally, beyond the apparent confines of the canvas, to encompass or imply a seemingly infinite sense of environmental space, but they also resonate with the mythic basis of social organization and tribal morality‘ (Clark: 2005: 62). Anatjari Tjampitjinpa’s paintings embody Clark’s description, with their minimal use of iconography, and include Bardon’s two main archetypes; those depicting travelling lines or journeys of the ancestors across the country, and those designating a specific place or locality. While there was a sameness about the imagery in all but a few works throughout his entire oeuvre, Anatjari’s masterpiece Snake Dreaming at Yunkurraya 1983, is a less conventional work, depicting the water site of Yunkurraya, the home of a large snake, set amongst sand hills. The painterly effect of the canvas brings to mind Bardon’s comment on the Aboriginal temperament as having a 'predilection to the sensitivity of touch'.  He went on to say that ‘this is a haptic sensation, a physical quality and tactile, different entirely from the visual sensation in eyesight‘ (cited in Clark 2005: 59). In contrast to the visual preoccupation of ‘Western Perspectivism’ in landscape painting, this alternative way of seeing in Aboriginal art provides a window into the alien, unknown regions of Australia, ‘it is as if, to be acclimatised to the great Spinifex country at the heart of our continent, we had to be shown it through the eyes of the people who know the country most intimately‘ (Clark 2005: 61). Anatjari Tjampitjinpa was not a prolific artist. Having begun to paint in earnest in the mid 1970’s, he continued when, along with many Pintupi, he returned to his ancestral lands in the 1980’s following a change of federal government policy. He painted for Papunya Tula Artists throughout the 1980’s and remained a consistent and dedicated painter into the mid 1990’s by which time he had become frail. Because he moved throughout his life between the various Pintupi settlements as far north as Balgo Hills, he was instrumental in spreading information about the new acrylic painting amongst artists in places distant from Papunya, where it all began.  His work appeared regularly in the National Aboriginal Art Award throughout the mid 1980’s and early 1990’s and was presented in the ‘Face of the Centre’ at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1985. His painting that toured the USA between 1988 and 1990 in the exhibition Dreamings: Art of Aboriginal was purchased by the National Gallery of Australia and his magnum opus, Travels of the Tingari Men created in the late 1970’s is in the collection of the Kelton Foundation.  He died at the age of 70 after making an invaluable contribution to Western Desert arts ‘golden age’ through being a consistent and dedicated painter for more than 30 years.  

It has always been assumed that Anatjari Tjampitjinpa, or Anatjari No.1 as he is more familiarly known, was a member of the founding artist’s at Papunya. This is due to the fact that he left the nomadic desert life in the early 1960’s and, as he was so closely related to many of the major Western Desert artists, he must have joined them painting with Bardon in the early 1970’s. However this was not the case. He drew only a few pencil sketches for Geoffrey Bardon because he spent the first half of the 1970’s living at Balgo Hills. His earliest recorded paintings are two works that date from 1976, one of which is in his top ten highest sales. It depicts the Soakage Water Site of Nuluntja (Lunjuna) on a canvas board measuring 71 x 53.5 cm and was sold at Sotheby’s in November 2007 for $13,200 (Lot 52). Nuluntja is a site where the Wati Djuta (literally 'man many') gathered for ceremonies. The other 1976 work sold for $6,325 at Sotheby’s in June 2000 (Lot 167). Painted on the same sized canvas board this work was originally acquired by the Aboriginal Arts Board and catalogued by them in 1978 as a work by Anatjari III Tjakamarra, however this was later corrected after consultation with Papunya Tula Artists. What distinguishes these two works from other paintings created later is the crudity of their execution, as well as the uniform field of monochrome dotted in-fill indicating the artist was new to painting. Both works are distinctive and the former is especially evocative of the floor of the large claypan and the flatness of the bottom of the lake at Lunjuna. The painting which holds his record price at auction is a spectacular work, completely atypical, and in my opinion, as good as any work by a Pintupi artist of the early 1980’s. Snake Dreaming at Yunkurraya 1983, demonstrates the artist’s ability at it’s peak. As Papunya works go, it is extremely innovative with the minor shifts in background tonal quality defined within the meandering white lines that delineate the major features of the soakwater set amidst the sandhills. This work is reminiscent of the finest works by Mick Namarari and other master painters of the Western Desert art movement. Measuring 152 x 92 cm, and carrying an estimate of $18,000-25,000 it sold at Sotheby's as long ago as June 1998 for $21,850 (Lot 42).  I have little doubt that were this magnificent work to appear once more for sale the result would be much closer to that achieved for the equally atypical Two Men Dreaming at Kuluntjarranya 1984 painted by Tommy Lowrey Tjapaltjarri which sold for $576,000 at Sotheby’s in July 2007 (Lot 51). Certainly something was happening west of Kintore in 1983-1984 that stimulated the production of better work than that produced both before and after. Anatjarri’s paintings first appeared at auction in 1993 and by the end of 1997 fourteen works had been offered of which only one had failed to sell. However, more recent results paint a vastly different picture. The interest in ethnographic looking works, especially generic Tingari paintings. In 2008 Sotheby's offered the only two works to appear for sale and both failed to justify their estimates of $15,000-18,000 and $15,000-25,000. Between 2009 and the end of 2017, eleven works found homes of the 17 that were offered. While the vast majority of the highest results for works by the early Pintupi men’s paintings are dominated by the stellar results achieved for 1971-1973 boards, Anatjari No.I did not begin painting until later and the majority of his paintings seem pedestrian and formulaic compared to those by a number of his contemporaries. For the most part, throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s, he produced generic Tingari paintings featuring interconnected concentric circular sites with Tingari ancestors depicted as crescent shaped icons alongside the major roundels. At their best these are well executed if uninspiring and while a number of them occupy places amongst his ten highest results, a most have failed to sell, especially those created late in his career. A good example would be the fate of the 152 x 122 cm Papunya Tula sourced Tingari Story at Ngaarwlada 1990, first offered for sale by Sotheby’s in July 2004 (Lot 277). Having failed to sell when carrying an estimate of $8,000-12,000, it was re-offered by Sotheby’s in July 2007 (Lot 182) this time with a presale estimate of just $5,000-8,000 but nonetheless met with the same disappointing result. Collectors should exercise extreme caution with works by this artist. While he has earned a place as an important artist historically, all but his very finest works fail to inspire. By the mid 1990’s he was at the end of his painting career and too old and frail to make the stylistic leap that carried a number of younger Papunya men to prominence. Those who own his works should not expect to see their values rise on the basis of his name alone.  

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