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Artist BiographiesBiography - Michael Jagamara Nelson


Michael Jagamara (also spelt Jagamarra or Tjakamarra) was born some time around 1946-49 at Pikilyi (Vaughan Springs) west of Yuendemu, in Central Australia. He is a Warlpiri and Luritja speaker.

He is one of the most widely collected and prominent Aboriginal artists. His work is as diverse as the mosaic at Parliament House, Canberra to the brightly coloured sports car he painted for BMW. As well as working with the Papunya community arts centre, Michael has collaborated with the Campfire Group in Brisbane and with other artists. Michael Nelson Jagamara

As a young boy, he was taught sand and body paintings and painting on shields by his grandfather. His country lies at the intersection of several major Dreaming paths and his paintings depict these many sacred sites. He is the custodian of many Dreaming stories and believes it is his responsibility to preserve, in paint and print, the stories which can assist the teaching of others about his tradition and culture.

Michael grew up in the bush and remembers hiding in fear at his first sight of white men at Mt Doreen station. He lived at Haasts Bluff until his parents took him to the mission school at Yuendemu for a European education. He left school at thirteen, after initiation, and worked at buffalo shooting, driving trucks, droving cattle and in the army, before returning to Yuendemu and then settling at Papunya in 1976.

He began painting in 1981 at Papunya where he still lives today with his wife Marjorie. There he observed the work of older artists and by 1983 he had began to paint regularly. He paints Possum, Snake, Two Kangaroos, Flying Ant and Yam Dreamings from the area around Pikilyi as well as lightning, rain, shields and sacred sites. He paints several Dreaming stories on a single work: "I thought to myself - I'll do different way to them mob instead of copying them. Do my own way".

In 1984 he won the National Aboriginal Art Award; in 1986 he exhibited in the Biennale of Sydney. In 1987 an 8 metre painting by him was installed in the foyer of the Sydney Opera House and he is also the designer of the 196 square metre mosaic in the forecourt of the National Parliament building.

He visited the USA with Billy Stockman in 1988 for the opening of the "Dreamings: Art of Aboriginal Australia" exhibition in New York. In 1989 he had his first solo exhibition, followed by shows in 1990 and 1993. In 1993 he received the Order of Australia Medal for services to Aboriginal art, and in 1994 he received a Fellowship from the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council.

In 1998 his painting career took a remarkable turn with the production of modernist works belonging to the New Expressions series. After painting for a number of years in a controlled style with layers of dots, bands and circles with a subdued colour range, his new works broke out in an explosion of bright colours and energetic gestures.

He is the subject of a major publication by Vivien Johnson (Michael Jagamara Nelson, 1997).

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