As a boy, Joseph Jurra and his family were brought into the small but overcrowded settlement of Papunya in 1964. They had been picked up by a welfare patrol and removed forever from their traditional nomadic existence in the Gibson Desert. The Pintupi people were the last to be put into the settlement and suffered even more neglect as they camped on the western fringe of the Papunya community. Homesickness and hardship perhaps intensified the focus of the senior ‘painting men’ on their strong cultural roots; their mythical conceptions of time, space and identity elucidated in the Tingari Travels. The mythical Tingari ancestors moved through vast stretches of land, creating its features and its sources of life and sustenance, performing rituals and instilling their song lines. They were followed by the Tingari women, who camped nearby and performed creation ceremonies of their own. Tingari paintings became the classic Pintupi style and featured crucially in their later claim for return to their homelands and establishing of communities; the outstation movement of the 1980s.
When his father died not long after their arrival in Papunya, Jurra was raised by Yumpululu Tjungurrayi, his mother’s second husband, and his uncle, Willy Tjungurrayi. Both men were involved in the beginnings of the painting movement that was facilitated by school teacher Geoffrey Bardon in the early 1970s. Jurra attended school at Papunya and later worked in the canteen and then on the council at Yuendumu. At this time, painters in Papunya worked in close proximity to each other, often singing ceremonial songs and collaborating on artworks. The older established artists took on apprentices whom they instructed in painting technique and cultural knowledge. Jurra assisted Charlie Taruru Tjungurrayi, who he later said really taught him how to paint. Jurra also spent time at Balgo, where he had family connections, and came into contact with the growing painting movement there. At this time in Balgo, artists were concerned about revealing too much secret cultural knowledge and painted with a looser, more abstracted look in comparison to the classic Pintupi constructions of circles and lines with cleanly dotted outlines and infill. Eventually, Jurra married and moved south, to the newly established community of Kintore, with his growing family.
During the period when the homeland communities of Kintore and Kiwirrkurra were established, art advisors had to travel long distances to deliver materials and pick up artworks. This reconnection to traditional lands inspired an explosion of artistic activity right across the desert. As the older generation of painting men passed on, Jurra was amongst the younger generation that rose to take their place. He began painting for Papunya Tula in 1986 and was one of the first to be afforded a solo show at the Gabrielle Pizzi Gallery in Melbourne (1988). The era of the individual desert artists being recognised at a national level had arrived, and international recognition soon followed. Jurra accompanied Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula to Paris to create a sand painting as part of the exhibition 'Peintres Aborigenes d’Australie' (1997). In 1999 and 2000 he was voted Chairman of Papunya Tula Artists. His work is represented in numerous collections both in Australia and overseas.
Schooled in the monumental Pintupi tradition, yet also stepping beyond its early schemas, Jurra creates mesmerising works of repeated fine lines upon detailed, dotted surfaces. These lines symbolise the abstracted pathways of the Tingari ancestors, weaving and dancing before the viewer’s eye - an effect referred to as ‘shimmer’. His large canvases are intensely alive with fine workmanship and a commanding austerity. He maintains the traditional warm earth colours of his desert country. In his later years Jurra has leaned towards a more minimalist style that evokes a contemplative presence.
Profile author: Sophie Baka
Aboriginal Art Museum, The Netherlands.
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth.
Art Insitutute of Chicago of Chicago, Chicago, USA.
Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland, NZ.
Gabrielle Pizzi Collection, Melbourne.
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
The Holmes a Court Collection, Perth.
The Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica, U.S.A.
1988 - Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne.
2011 - Papunya Tula artists: Community III, Utopia Art, Sydney.
2010 - Papunya Tula Artists Community, Utopia Art, Sydney.
2010 - Tradition and Innovation: Papunya Tula 2010, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne.
2010 - PTA, Utopia Art Sydney.
2009 - Community: the heart of Papunya Tula artists, Utopia Art, Sydney.
2009 - Papunya Classics, Utopia Art Sydney, Sydney.
2008 - 20 years of Papunya Tula Artists, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne.
2007 - Big Paintings from Papunya Tula Artists, Utopia Art Sydney, Sydney.
2007 - Papunya Tula Artists 2007, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne.
2006 - Arts d’Australie, Stéphane Jacob 10th anniversary, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob, Paris; St-art – European Art Fair, Arts d'Australie, Stéphane Jacob, Strasbourg, France.
2005 - Papunya Tula Artists, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne; Papunya Tula Artists - new work for a new space, Utopia Art Sydney; Papunya Tula - New Paintings from the Kintore and Kiwirrkura regions Group Show, John Gordon Art Gallery, Coffs Harbour, NSW.
2004 - Kuniya Pilkarti, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne; Mythology and Reality - Contemporary Aboriginal Desert Art from the Gabrielle Pizzi Collection, Heidi Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne; 21st Telstra National Aborigainal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin.
2003 - Kintore Kiwirrkura 2003, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne; Aborigena, Monash University Prato Centre, Italy.
2000 - Papunya Tula: Genesis and Genius, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
1997 - Sandpainting for the exhibition Peintres Aborigines d'Australie, Establissement Public du Parc de la Grand Halle de lat Villette, Paris, France.
1993 - Aboriginal Art Exhibition, Kung Gubunga,Oasis Gallery, Broadbeach,Qld; Tjukurrpa, Desert Dreamings, Aboriginal Art from Central Australia (1971-1993), Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth WA.
1992 - Crossroads-Towards a New Reality, Aboriginal Art from Australia, National Museums of Modern Art, Kyoto and Tokyo.
1991 - Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, High Court, Canberra; Central Australian Aboriginal Art and Craft Exhibition, Araluen Centre, Alice Springs; The Painted Dream: Contemporary Aboriginal Paintings from the Tim and Vivien Johnson Collection, Auckland City Art Gallery and Te Whare Taonga o Aoteroa National Art Gallery, New Zealand.
1990 - Papunya Tula. Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi. Melbourne; National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome.
1989 - Papunya Tula: Contemporary Paintings from Australia's Western Desert, John Weber Gallery, New York, USA.; Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne.; Centro Cultural Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico City.
1988 - John Weber Gallery, New York.
1987 - Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne; The Fourth National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin.
Bardon, Geoffrey; Ryan, Judith; Pizzi, Gabrielle; Stanhope, Zara., Mythology and Reality - Contemporary Aboriginal Desert Art from the Gabrielle Pizzi Collection, Heidi Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 2004.
Crumlin, R., (ed.), 1991, Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, Collins Dove, North Blackburn, Victoria. (C)
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. (C)
1990, Papunya Tula, exhib. cat., Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne. (C)
1993, Tjukurrpa Desert Dreamings, Aboriginal Art from Central Australia (1971-1993), exhib. cat., Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth. (C)
Joseph Jura has been painting for the Papunya Tula cooperative since the mid to late 1980s and has twice acted as Chairman of the company. His only solo exhibition was with Gabrielle Pizzi at the end of the 1980s although his works have been exhibited widely by the company in group shows since 2008.
He is an artist whose work falls into two distinct periods and styles. Apart from one single work, his paintings have appeared regularly at auction since 1996 and between that year and 2007, 30 paintings were offered at public sales. The vast majority of these were in the traditional Pintupi style developed by the Papunya artists during the 1980s and, of these works 15 sold for a career success rate of 50% at that time.
Jurra's post-2000 works only began appearing regularly at auction from 2009 onwards, and these works have proven to be far less successful than those of many of his contemporaries who were the most prominent initiators of the aesthetically minimal Pintupi men's painting style. In fact, while Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, George Tjungurrayai, George Ward and Turkey Tolson have success rates at least 10-20% higher, Joseph Jurra's clearance rate has fallen during the last 10 years to currently languish at 35%.
His record price was set in 2015 when a 153 x 122 cm untitled work created in 2009 sold for $33,600 at the Deutscher & Hackett sale of the Laverty Collection at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art. This eclipsed the previous record of $26,400 that had stood since 2006. The highest price paid for a work in his early style, typified by interconnecting roundels was the $11,400 that was paid for a 182 x 182 cm work titled Kangaroo Dreaming at Ngamurrinya 1989, purchased at Sotheby's in 2001. It was a record price at that time and stood for a further 4 years until eclipsed by a painting much more in keeping with the new minimalist style being practiced by the most successful of his male contemporaries. His last 6 auctionappearances, from the end of 2015 to the end of 2017, have been unsuccessful.
In 2000, the first year that the AIAM100 statistics were collated, Joseph Jurra was ranked 166 amongst the most important Aboriginal artists of the movement. He rose steadily through the ranks to be 133rd by 2002, 113th by 2007 and reached 102nd by 2010. However poor results over the following 4 years saw his ranking drop to 107th by 2014. With a new record price set in 2015 and 3 of the 4 works on offer sold, Jurra had another short rise before he dropped once again to 109th by early 2018. He is, however, an artist who has produced a significant body of fine paintings, and his status should be seen in the light of the general favour in which Papunya works are held. As Pintupi art wins greater admiration, so too will the best works by this important artist.