Michael Nelson Tjakamarra (also cited as: Michael Nelson Jagamarra, or Jakamara) is a Senior Warlpiri Tribesman and an Elder of the Papunya Community in central Australia. Born c. 1949 at Pikilyi, Vaughan Springs west of Yuendumu in the Northern Territory, he grew up ‘in the bush’. His father was an important tribal elder and medicine man at Yuendumu. It was therefore automatic that he would grow up with the traditional values and knowledge that now influences his paintings.
Michael lived at Haasts Bluff until his parents took him to Yuendumu for European education at the mission school. He left school at thirteen, after initiation, and worked at buffalo shooting, driving trucks, droving cattle and in the army, before returning to Yuendumu and then to Papunya to settle in 1976. He worked for a time in the Government store and for the Council
Michael learned to paint at Papunya by observing the senior men such as Billy Stockman and Old Mick Tjakamarra. Although he was tutored by his uncle, Jack Tjupurrula, Michael developed his own style and began painting earnestly from 1983.
Michael is known as master desert painter for his depiction of several Dreamings in one painting. For him the understanding of the Dreaming stories that go with his paintings is all important – without the stories his paintings would ‘mean nothing’ as far as he is concerned. His Dreamings include the Possum, Snake, Two Kangaroos, Rock Wallaby, Bush Banana, Honey Ant and Yam.
In 1984 Michael won the National Aboriginal Art Award with his painting ‘Three Dreamings’. His reputation as a painter rose rapidly after this. He exhibited his work in the 1986 Biennale of Sydney and featured in ‘The State of the Art’, a British art documentary. In 1987 Michael had been asked to paint a major work (27’long) to decorate the foyer of Sydney’s Opera House and he chose to paint his ‘Possum Dreaming’ story. A great highlight in Michael’s career was in 1988 when he was commissioned to design a 196 sq-metre mosaic in the main forecourt of Australia’s new Parliament House in Canberra. The work was based on his ‘Kangaroo and Emu’ dreaming. Michael was presented to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth 11, when she officially opened the building.
During 1988-89 one of Michael’s major works “Five Stories” was reproduced on the catalogue cover for the Asia Society’s exhibition, ‘Dreamings, The Art of Aboriginal Australia’, in New York. In this exhibition Michael’s participation included ground painting and ceremonial dance which he executed with the Papunya elder Billy Stockman. Michael undertook a commission in 1989 to paint a BMW, M3 racing car by hand. In 1993 he was awarded the Australia Medal for his services to Aboriginal Art.
Michael is a ‘real Walpiri man’, a philosopher and an articulate exponent of Western Desert viewpoints on the internationally famous art movement in which he has played such a key role. Michael has gained worldwide recognition, participating in several national and international solo and group exhibitions. Today his paintings are represented in major private and public collections throughout the world, including Australia, Europe, Asia and the United States of America.
At almost any landmark occasion in Aboriginal art during the golden years of the mid to late 80s, Michael was to be found, patiently giving the same eloquent, heartfelt answers to the media’s questions about why he painted this or that picture and what the Dreaming is.
Michael has been painting for Mem Aziz since 1995. Mem had spent time traveling up north learning about the history and culture of the Aborigines in the 1990s. It was during this active discovery that Mem found how much he appreciated the continent’s indigenous culture. His association with the communities culminated in his being adopted by the tribe and given the Aboriginal name Tjampitjinpa – something of which he is immensely proud. It was during this time that Mem met Michael and they have enjoyed a supportive friendship since those early days.
Since 2000 Michael uses bold designs executed in a free flowing way still keeping to the Warlpiri mythology. He is considered to be one of the most famous and prolific painters in Australia and his biography, ‘Michael Jagamara Nelson by Vivien Johnson was published in 1997.
1985 National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
1986 Biennale of Sydney; Roar Studios, Melbourne; Institute of Contemporary Art, London
1987 Gallery Gabriella Pizzi, Melbourne
1988 Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide;
Centro Cultural Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico City, Mexico;
Australian National Gallery, Canberra
1992 Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs
1993 Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
1997 Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs
1998 Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs; Gallery Gabriella Pizzi, Melbourne
1999 Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs;
Embassy of Australia, Washington, U.S.A.
2000 Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs
2001 Icons of Australian Aboriginal Art, Singapore
1989 “Michael Nelson Jagamara”, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne
1990 “Michael Nelson Jagamara”, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne
1993 Utopia Art, Sydney
1996 “New Work”, Fire-Works gallery, Brisbane
1997 “Nine Dreamings from Mt Singleton”, Fire-Works gallery, Brisbane;
1998 “New Expressions”, Fire-Works gallery, Brisbane
1999 “Without the Story the Painting is Nothing”, curated by S.P. Wright Brisbane City Gallery
MNJ, Fire-Works gallery, Brisbane
“New wor”, Desart Gallery Sydney
2000 “Michael Nelson Jagamara Painting”, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle
Some Other Way, MNJ and Campfire Group. Fire-Works gallery, Brisbane
2003 redrock gallery, Melbourne
1984 “Papunya and Beyond”, Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs
The First National Aboriginal Art Award, Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
1985 The Face of the Centre: Papunya Tula Paintings 1971 – 84, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
1986 The Biennale of Sydney, AGNSW, Sydney; Roar Studios, Melbourne
1987 State of the Art: ideas and images of the 1980’s, Institute of Contemporary Art, London; The Fourth National Indigenous Art Award, MAGNT, Darwin;
Papunya Tula: 1982-1983, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne
1988 Dreamings: The Art of Aboriginal Australia, The Asia society Galleries, New York
1989 Papunya Tula: Contemporary Paintings from Australia’s Western Desert, John Weber Gallery, New York;
Centro Cultural Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico City;
A Myriad of dreaming: 20th Century Aboriginal Art, Westpac Gallery, Melbourne;
A Myriad of dreaming: 20th Century Aboriginal Art, Design Warehouse, Sydney;
Aboriginal Art: The Continuing Tradition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra;
“Windows on the Dreaming”, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
1990 “Balance 1990”, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
1991 Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, High Court, Canberra;
Flash Pictures, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra;
The Painted Dream: Contemporary Aboriginal Paintings from the Tim & Vivien Johnson Collection, Auckland City Art Gallery & Te Whare Taonga o Aoteroa National Art Gallery, New Zealand; Alice to Penzance, The Mall Galleries, London
1992 Central Australian Aboriginal Art & Craft Exhibition, Araluen Centre, Alice Springs
1993 Aboriginal Art Exhibition, Kung Gubunga, Oasis Gallery, Gold Coast;
Tjukurrpa, Desert Dreamings, Aboriginal Art from Central Australia (1971 – 1993), Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
1993-4 Aratjara, Art of the First Australians, Touring – Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London; Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark
1996 Salt Water, Fresh Water, Bore Water, Touring Regional Galleries with Campfire Group
All Stock Must Go! Asia Pacific Triennial, Queensland Art Gallery with Campfire Group
1998 Powerful Medicine, Dar Festival of Indigenous Art & Culture, King George Square, Brisbane with Campfire Group;
Melbourne Art Fair, Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne;
National Indigenous Heritage Art Award, Old Parliament House, ACT;
National Indigenous Heritage Art Award, Touring Exhibition
1999 Asia Pacific Triennial, Queensland Art Gallery
2000 National Indigenous Heritage Art Award, Old Parliament House, ACT with Campfire Group;
2000 Telstra National Indigenous Art Awards, MAGNT with Campfire Group
Genesis and Genius, The Art of Papunya Tula, AGNSW
Landmarks, Dar Festival of Indigenous Art and Culture, Brisbane Powerhouse with Campfire Group;
Melbourne Art Fair, Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne with Campfire Group
2000 Landmarks, Dar Festival of Indigenous Art and Culture, Brisbane Powerhouse with Campfire Group
2000 Melbourne Art Fair, Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne with Campfire Group
2002 redrock gallery Melbourne
2007 June, redrock gallery, Group Exhibition, Gallery Grand Opening Beijing, P.R China
2007 July, redrock gallery, Group Exhibition China World Exhibition Centre, Beijing P.R China
2007 August, redrock gallery, Group Exhibition, Grand Hyatt Hotel,Beijing, P.R China
2007 November, redrock gallery, Group Exhibition, International Art Expo, Beijing, P.R China
2008 July, redrock gallery Beijing, 2nd Gallery Opening, Group Exhibition, Beijing, P.R China
1987 Sydney Opera House Bicentennial Mural
1988 Mosaic Forecourt, New Parliament House, Canberra
1989 BMW Art Car Project, – Painted BMW M3 Racing Car
1984 First prize, Inaugural National Aboriginal Art Award
1993 Australian Medal for Contribution to Aboriginal Art
Artist’s Fellowship, Visual Arts/Craft Board for Australia Council
2001 Finalist in 18th Telstra NATSIAA
Araluen Arts Centre,
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Art Gallery of Queensland, Brisbane
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Australian Museum, Sydney
Brisbane City Gallery
Centre Culturel Tjibaou, New Caledonia
Ho-Am Art Museum, Korea,
Holmes a Court Collection;
Mem Aziz collection, Melbourne
Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory,
National Gallery of Australia
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Queensland Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Western Australia
Rockhampton Art Gallery
South Australian Museum, Adelaide
University of Queensland Art Museum
Corbally Stourton P, Songlines and Dreamings, Lund Humphries Publishers, London, UK, 1996.
Aboriginal Art Galleries of Australia, Jinta Desert Art Gallery and Aboriginal Desert Art Gallery in association with Fresco Australia, Indigenous Art of the Dreamtime 2 August – 2 September 1999.
Johnson, V., Aboriginal Artists of the Western Desert, A Biographical Dictionary, Craftsman House, Roseville, N.S.W. 1994.
Kreczmanski, J.B & Birnberg, M., Aboriginal Artists Dictionary of Biographies, J B Publishing Australia, South Australia, 2004.
Nangara:The Australian Aboriginal Art Exhibition from the Ebes Collection, Vol.1 – The Text, Aboriginal Gallery of Dreamings, Melbourne 1996.
Perkins, H and Fink H,[eds,] Papunya Tula, Genesis and Genius, Art Gallery of New South Wales, New South Wales, 2000.
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