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Artist BiographiesBiographies of Balgo Hills Artists


Balgo Hills artists come from a variety of locations, backgrounds and even language groups. Short biographies are given below for a number of the artists represented on our Web site:


Helicopter Tjungarrayi

Born: c1937
Location: Nynmi (Jupiter Well)
Skin: Tjungarrayi
Language Group: Kukatja
Mediums: Acrylic paint on canvas and linen
Themes: Piparr country (his mother's country), Nynmi country (his father's country), Tingari, soakwaters.


Helicopter Tjungarrayi
Helicopter Tjungarrayi

Helicopter learnt from an early age the location of water sources and how to hunt for bush food. He is a maparn (traditional healer) and people travel long distances to see him for treatment and healing. In the early 1990s he painted with his wife (recently deceased), but since 1995 has painted independently in a distinctive linear style that radiates from the central feature of a soakwater. He is dedicated to painting his country and that of his parents where he lived a nomadic life as a young boy. He also uses the kinti-kinti style of dotting pioneered by his wife but works with a different range of colours combined with the more flowing linear elements.

Helicopter was given his name as a result of an accident in the 1960s when he became seriously ill and was collected by a flying doctor using the first helicopter seen in the area. In 2008 the retired helicopter pilot was fascinated to find that the young boy he has rescued in the 1960s had grown to become one of Balgo's leading artists - the story is toild in the article Joy for Jim as helicopter kid turns up 50 years on.

Sam Tjampitjin

Born: c.1930 deceased 2003
Location: Wilkinkarra near Lake Mackay
Skin: Tjampitjin
Language: Kukatja and Warlpiri
Mediums: acrylic paint on canvas and linen
Themes: Wati Kutjarra (two mythical goanna men); soakwaters, rainmaking; warran (claypan) and tali (parallel sand dunes); kurrawarri (sacred dreaming); lingka - snake; bush fires
Sam Tjampitjin

Sam was a senior law man in the Balgo community and his paintings were mainly concerned with the secret and sacred sites of men's ceremonial business. He spent most of his early life around Gulgunpa, near Lake Mackay and he became a senior custodian for large tracts of land in this area. When Sam was still a young man he walked into the original Balgo Mission, Tjumundu, with his father. Sam recalled tending to the goats and shearing the sheep at the mission. He told how they enjoyed the meat from the mission as against the game of the desert. Sam started painting with the arrival of the art coordinator Michael Rae at Warlayirti Artists. This was a time when many of the senior men of Balgo began to paint. Since that time Sam diligently painted his country and the sacred law associated with it. He was a natural brother of one of Balgo's greatest artists, Sunfly who is also deceased.

Tjumpo Tjapanangka

Born: c.1929 deceased 2007
Location: Muruwarr, north of Kiwirkurra
Skin: Tjapanangka
Language: Kukatja, Pintupi
Mediums: Professional acrylic paint on canvas and linen
Themes: Water, rainmaking, soaks; Wati Kutjarra (Two Men Dreaming); Rainbow snakes; Bandicoot, flying ant, dingo spirit, kangaroo; Tingari

Tjumpo was a senior law man, a maparn (healer) and a respected speaker for his community. He was very fit and strong for his age and he attributed this to his diet of bush food. He spole enthusiastically of his childhood in the desert hunting for goanna, echidna, wallaby, wild cat, and the construction of spinifex and mud shelters for the wet season. He came to Balgo as a result of the local priest, Father Alphonse, sending people out into the bush with supplies of flour, sugar and tea to attract Aboriginal people to the Mission. Shortly afterwards, in 1948, a large group of people came in to live at the Old Mission at Tjumuntora. Tjumpo began painting in 1986.

He was very sociable and loved to meander and chat between painting. An inventive painter, Tjumpo's work varied from monumental works incorporating contrasting visual motifs, to more tightly woven smaller pieces. Tjumpo adapted easily to the process of painting on acetates and his silkscreen is one of the prints featured on this Website.

Boxer Milner

Born: c.1935
Location: Milnga-Milnga near Sturt Creek
Skin: Tjampitjin
Language: Tjaru

Boxer is a well respected community elder and successful painter living in Kururrungku Community, also known as Billiluna, near Sturt Creek. He is a Tjaru speaker from country north of Balgo.

He and his two brothers are custodians for the country and the stories of the Sturt Creek area. Boxer's paintings depict different physical and Dreaming aspects of the middle and upper stretches of Sturt Creek. He often depicts the flooding of the creek, and the changes to the country this brings, both during the flooding and after the water starts to recede.

The area of Milnga-Milnga, where Boxer was born, is a major flood plain for Sturt Creek and is inundated every summer after the rains. The artist's family, who have always lived here, 'look after' the area by keeping its associated Law and ceremonies. A significant portrayal of the water in Boxer's paintings of Sturt Creek is white, depicting the 'milk water' which runs after rain has fallen in the clay soils upstream of Billiluna. His work includes wonderful rainbows, rain clouds and the temporary creeks that are formed during the wet season, as well as distinctive portrayals of eucalyptus trees in the area.

He has participated in numerous group exhibitions since the early 1990s, has held several solo shows, and his work is represented in a number of major public and private collections. He is undoubtedly one of Balgo's most respected artists. Unfortunately he has been in poorer health in recent years and is not painting actively any more.

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