• Nelson Tjakamarra's 'Five Stories', one of his most iconic works. (SOTHEBY'S LONDON)Source: SOTHEBY'S LONDON
Warlpiri artist Nelson Tjakamarra remembered as talented painter and generous storyteller, who shared his culture with the world through his work.
Keira Jenkins

4 Dec 2020 - 12:43 PM  UPDATED 4 Dec 2020 - 12:43 PM

Tributes have flowed for Warlpiri artist Nelson Tjakamarra, following news of his death.

Mr Tjakamarra was an Elder of the Papunya community, and one of the renowned Papunya artists. He was born in the bush and moved to Yuendumu, where he went to school until the age of 13.

When he left school, he worked at buffalo shooting, driving trucks, droving cattle and in the army until he moved to Yuendumu, then on to Papunya in 1976.

It was in Papunya that Mr Tjakamarra learned to paint. He watched the senior men work as they painted and was taught by his uncle Tjupurrula early on but he quickly developed his own style, using his work to tell and preserve his people's stories.

In 1984, just one year after he joined the Papunya artists as a full time member, Mr Tjakamarra won the inaugural National Aboriginal Art Award (now the NATSIAAs).

His work appeared in the 1986 Biennale of Sydney, and in 1987 he was asked to paint a work for the foyer of the Sydney Opera House. He painted a huge 8 metre mural, depicting his Possum Dreaming.

Mr Tjakamarra's work also features at the forecourt of Parliament House in the form of a 196 square metre mosaic. The mosaic is titled 'Possum and Wallaby Dreaming'.

Mr Tjakamarra met Queen Elizabeth when she officially opened Parliament House in Canberra.

In 1993, Mr Tjakamarra was awarded the Australian Medal for his services to Aboriginal art. 

Speaking in Parliament, Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy paid tribute to Mr Tjakamarra and offered condolences to his friends and community.

"He played a visible role promoting the movement, patiently answering questions about the Dreaming stories he painted and sharing his knowledge," she said.

"At almost any landmark occasion in Aboriginal art during the golden years of the mid to late 1980s, he 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 story was.

"Not only was he a talented painter but he generously shared his culture with the world, breaking down barriers and promoting the richness and beauty of First Nations culture, particularly from his Western Desert home.

"He was an articulate exponent of Western Desert viewpoints on the internationally famous art movement in which he played such a key role."