George 'Hairbrush' Tjungurrayi

“The shapes and lines can be read as representations of waterholes and the ripple marks on the sand caused by the wind. When considered in a Western art-historical context, the optical effects created by colliding colours are reminiscent of Minimalism and Op Art."
Presentation for the 21st Biennale of Sydney.

George 'Hairbrush' Tjungarrayi was born around 1947 at Wala Wala, west of Kiwirkura in Pintupi country in the Western Desert. In 1962, he arrived in Papunya where he worked as a welfare patrol guide. During periods of intermittent work, George began painting for Papunya Tula Artists in 1976. Since his first two solo exhibitions in 1997 at the Utopia Art Gallery in Alice Springs and at the Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi in Melbourne in 1998, he has become one of the master painters of contemporary Pintupi art. 

George’s early works from the 1970s and early 1980s depicted Tingari imagery by dotted grids on lines and circles in traditional ochres. The Tingari describes a group of mythical, spiritual ancestors who shaped the landscape and sacred sites of the Western Desert. In the mid-1980s, he experimented with new styles, including a wider range of colors in works that reflected ceremonies and stories about the journeys of his ancestors told through sacred songs of the Tingari.

After his first prominent exhibition in Alice Springs in 1990, George moved away from figurative painting towards more abstract and linear work that depicts the traditional Tingari Dreaming Cycle. This is a collection of religious stories, ceremonies and laws that were transmitted to the inhabitants of the Western Desert by the Tingari. Through fine lines and beautiful geometric patterns, George portrays in an abstract style the major sacred sites of the Tingari, such as caves and sand hills, as well as their dreamtime stories. His works belong to the same genre as those of Ronnie Tjampitjinpa and Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula.


Solo exhibitions of Tjungurrayi’s work include Paintings, Utopia Art, Sydney (2016); Pulka Canvas, Utopia Art, Sydney at The Depot Gallery, Sydney (2013); Space & Place, Utopia Art, Sydney (2011); Between the Lines, Utopia Art, Sydney (2008); Paintings from Mamultjulkulnga and Kirrimalunya, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne (2003); Unforeseen 1989 to 2002, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane (2003); New Fields, Utopia Art, Sydney (2002); and George Tjungurrayi – first solo show, Utopia Art, Sydney (1997).

Selected group exhibitions include Abstraction of the World, Duddell’s x Biennale of Sydney, Duddell’s, Hong Kong (2017); Cornucopia, Utopia Art, Sydney (2016); Sydney Contemporary, Carriageworks, Sydney (2015); Sublime Point: The Landscape in Painting, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre, Gymea (2014); Volume One: MCA Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2012); 40 Years of Papunya Tula Art, Utopia Art, Sydney (2011); Desert Country, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2010); and Western Desert Satellites, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth (2006).

Tjungurrayi’s work is held in a number of collections, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; Groninger Museum, the Netherlands; Musée national des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie, Paris; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Seattle Art Museum, Washington; Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, Darwin; and University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

Artwork and technique 

George has perfected a minimalist and abstracted style of painting that is characterised by intersecting parallel lines that bend with subtle optical rhythm. His works, based on his country and culture, symbolise ancestral journeys and ceremonial body paint. In particular, George paints the Tingari stories of his ancestral country which covers the sites around Kiwirrkura, Lake Mackay, Kulkuta, Karku, Ngaluwinyamana and Kilpinya. It has been suggested that his imagery is drawn from the distinctive Western Desert style of 'fluted' carving; fine parallel lines incised into the wood and coated with ochres that were embellished on men's ceremonial boomerangs and shields.

The delicate fine lines and use of strong color with a limited palette not only provide a convincing impact but also lend his works an aura of spiritual strength. They often create a subtle optical illusion, infusing the work with liveliness and dynamism. His prominence today derives from the fundamentally abstract and modern nature of his works. It has been said of his works that  “[t]hey have no focus but invite the viewer to enter a crucial cultural performance. The energy and life-force enacted onto the painted surface evokes sensations and sensibilities that must primarily be experienced and felt.”


Selected Exhibitions

2019 Art Miami, SmithDavidson Gallery, Miami USA
2018 EXPO Chicago, SmithDavidson Gallery, Chicago, USA
2018 21st Biennale of Sydney, Sydney Australia
2016 Wynne Prize 2016 for 'the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours by Australian artists’, Finalist
2016 Art New York, New York, USA
2015 Signs and Traces. Contemporary Aboriginal Art. Cultural institute Zamek. Poznan, Poland
2011: Solo Exhibition, Sister, Brother Nyarrumparra, Papunya Tula Artist Gallery, Alice Springs, Australia

Born in Kiwirkurra, Western Australia on November 30th, 1946

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