Thomas Tjapaltjarri

Thomas Tjapaltjarri (born 1964) and his brothers Warlimpirrnga and Walala have become well known in the contemporary Indigenous Australian art world as the Tjapaltjarri Brothers. Thomas and his family lived a traditional nomadic way of life on the western side of Lake Mackay, in the Gibson Desert in Central Australia. They had never come into contact with Western civilisation until they wondered out of the desert in 1984, which made news headlines around the world. They became known as “The Last Nomads” or “The Lost Tribe”. Most other Pintupi families had been settled in remote towns to the east and west of their traditional country during the 1950s.

Thomas began painting in December 1987, a few years after settling at Kiwirrkurra. His brother Warlimpirrnga had already made a name for himself as an artist and he encouraged Thomas to paint too. Thomas and Walala joined the Papunya Tula artists, and they and Warlimpirrnga eventually gained fame internationally as the Tjapaltjarri Brothers.

His paintings depict stories from the Pintupi dreaming. They are mostly about places and events in the Tingari cycle (a cycle of myths about the ancestors of the Pintupi). His designs are inspired by those painted on the body during ceremonies. He uses acrylic paints on canvas, sticking to earthy colours (black, white and ochres). He paints simple shapes with dotted lines, which is a style that his brothers also use.

Thomas, along with his brothers Walala and Warlimpirringa, has exhibited widely in almost all aboriginal galleries in Australia and overseas.