Johnny Warankula Tjupurrula

Date of Birth:



Papunya, NT


Luritja / Pintupi


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Johnny Warankula is an iconic and important member of the original acrylic art movement at Papunya, where he began painting in the late 1970‘s after a long turn as a labourer in Haasts Bluff, Mt Leibig, Yuendumu and Mt Wedge. He rapidly developed the style now known as ‘overdotting‘ to disguise the sacred nature of his Dreamings.

His work is imbued with an incredible sense of movement and ceremony that can only be understood through experiencing his paintings in the flesh. Geoffery Bardon the initiator of the acrylic movement fondly recollected that Johnny would paint with intense level of intuitive concentration. The body of work that Johnny has left behind contains some of the finest examples of not just Aboriginal, but Australian abstract painting. His work features in many public and private collections throughout the world.


Johnny Warankula Tjupurrula was born south of Lake Mackay and lived a traditional life in the bush, he learnt the sacred ceremonial Dreamtime stores from his father and grandfather.

Johnny’s first contact with Europeans was a scarry one for him as he hid in fright while an aeroplane flew over, his people believed the aeroplane to be  “marnu” or the devil.  He also hid when he first saw camels again believing them to be from the devil.

He and his family went to live at Hermansberg mission, as did many aboriginal families of the time.  At Hermannsburg, Johnny worked as a labourer, digging the foundations for a new airport.  As settlements were established, Johnny continued his labouring jobs at Haasts Bluff, Mt. Leibig, Mt Wedge and then to Papunya in 1960, where a new Aboriginal settlement had been built.

When the Queen visited in 1954, Nosepeg Tjupurulla and Johnny Warrangkula were chosen as the Aboriginal representatives to meet the monarch. Whilst Johnny was serving on the Papunya Council with Mick Namarari, Kingsley Tjungarrayi and Limpi Tjapangati  he met the local teacher, Geoffrey Bardon, who supplied the elder men with paints and canvases and whose influence and support of the artists helped create the beginnings of the Aboriginal Art Movement as we know it today

Johnny was a major artist in the Aboriginal art movement. In 1984, the Sydney Morning Herald published a photograph of the Director of the Australian National Gallery, James Mollison, next to a work by Johnny Warrangkula. James Mollison declared the work of Papunya Artists to be ‘the finest abstract art ever produced in this country’.

In 1976 a painting by Johnny Warrangkula titled ‘Water Dreaming at Kalipinypa’ sold for a record $206,000. In 2000 another work by Johnny Warrangkula sold at Sotheby’s Auction house for $486,000, a world record for an Aboriginal painting.                       

Between the late 1980’s into the mid 1990’s, Johnny produced few works due to a badly broken arm and poor eyesight resulting from trachoma.  Johnny’s enthusiasm for painting returned after receiving treatment, and his desire to record his stories for future generations  and produce an income for his extended family.           

Until his death in 2001, Johnny Warrangkula lived at Papunya with his wife, Gladys Napanangka and his eight daughters and two sons.


1977      Nigerian Festival Exhibition, Lagos, Nigeria, Africa.

1980       Papunya Tula, Macquarie University Library, Sydney.

1980       Australian Galleries Director’s Council International Exhibition of Aboriginal Art, touring to 1985.

1980        Contemporary Australian Aborigine Paintings, Pacific Asia Museum,Pasadena, California, USA

1981-82 Aboriginal Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of  Western Australia, Australian Museum, Queensland Art Gallery

1984        Koori Art ‘84, Art Space, Sydney.

1984       Papunya and Beyond, Araluen Centre, Alice Springs

1985       The Face of the Centre: Papunya Tula Paintings 1971-1984, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

1987       Circle Path Meander, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

1988       Papunya Tula Paintings, Wagga Wagga City Art Gallery,

1988       Foundation: The First Decade of Collecting, National Gallery of Victoria

1988       John Weber Gallery, New York City, USA.

1988       Dreamings, the art of Aboriginal Australia, The Asia Society Galleries,  New York

1988       The Inspired Dream, Life as art in Aboriginal Australia, Museum & Art  Gallery of the Northern Territory and touring internationally.

1989       A Myriad of Dreaming: Twentieth Century Aboriginal Art, Westpac Gallery, Melbourne

1989       Design Warehouse Sydney [through Lauraine Diggins Fine Art]

1989       Aboriginal Art: The Continuing Tradition, National Gallery of Australia,  Canberra

1989       Papunya Tula: Contemporary Paintings from Australia’s Western Desert John Weber Gallery, New York, USA.

1989       Mythscapes, Aboriginal Art of the Desert, National Gallery of Victoria 1990  l’ete Australien a’ Montpellier, Musee Fabre Gallery, Montpellier, France.

1991       Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, High Court, Canberra

1991       Flash Pictures, National Gallery of Australia

1991       Canvas and Bark, South Australian Museum, Adelaide.

1991       The Painted Dream: Contemporary Aboriginal Paintings from the Tim & Vivien Johnson Collection, Auckland City Art Gallery and Te Whare Taonga o Aoteroa National Art Gallery, New Zealand.

1991       Alice to Penzance, The Mall Galleries, The Mall, London

1991       Australian Aboriginal Art from the Collection of Donald Kahn, Lowe Art  Museum, University of Miami, USA

1991/92 Friendly Country, Friendly People, Touring Exhibition, through Araluen Centre, Alice Springs

1992       Crossroads-Towards a New Reality, Aboriginal Art from Australia, National Museums of Modern Art, Kyoto & Tokyo.

1993       Ten years of acquisitions,from ANU collection, Drill Hall Gallery ACT

1993       Hayward Gallery, London, United Kingdom.

1993       Araluen Art Centre, Alice Springs, Northern Territory,

1993       Art Museum Armidale, New South Wales, Australia.

1993       Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville, Queensland,

1993       Tjukurrpa, Desert Dreamings, Aboriginal Art from Central Australia

1993/4 ARATJARA, Art of the First Australians, Touring Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London; Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark

1994       Dreamings - Tjukurrpa: Aboriginal Art of the Western Desert; The Donald Kahn collection, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich



National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

National Museum of Australia, Canberra

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Museum of Victoria, Melbourne

South Australian Museum, Adelaide

Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth

Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Art Gallery of Queensland, Brisbane

Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Darwin

The Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Aboriginal Galleries of Australia; Araluen Centre, Alice Springs

Artbank Flinders Museum, Adelaide