aboriginal artist: George Ward Tjungurrayi

George Ward Tjungurrayi was born near the site of Lararra, southeast of Kiwirrkura circa 1945. George Ward is the youngest of three brothers; the late Yala Yala Gibbs (founding member of the Papunya art movement and senior custodian of secret/sacred men business) and Willy Tjungurrayi (one of the most sought after painters of the Western Desert). They were all sons of Pulpalpulpalnga Tjapaltjarri, but had different mothers.

George Ward Tjungurrayi is represented in major national collections including the National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of NSW, Supreme Court of Northern Territory, and in Musée des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie, Paris, and Groninger Museum, Netherlands. Anita Angel, art curator at Charles Darwin University, says of George Ward’s artwork, “It’s instantly recognisable, he has a style, but it’s more than just a style. He’s coming from somewhere deep within his mind’s eye to draw out what he does. He’s not experimenting, he knows exactly what he’s doing.”

George Ward started his painting career at Kintore around 1990. It was not until his older brother Yala Yala Gibbs died in 1998, that the full weight of cultural and ceremonial authority was transferred to George Ward. Yala Yala Gibbs was a foundation artist in the Papunya Tula Aboriginal art movement.  The art work of George Ward Tjungurrayi reflected these changes of authority, his paintings becoming more sophisticated and his style more distinctive. The dense lines that created his structures were surrounded by rows of dots that gave the paintings great power.

Judith Ryan, curator at the National Gallery of Victoria summed up the effects on George Ward’s painting (1), “He hit on this sophisticated, geometric, filled-in style almost at once. I have the sense that he began to paint only when he was ready, in full command of both story and country.”  In George Ward’s larger paintings he regularly creates the Tingari or Dreaming stories from his ancestral country located to the west of Kintore and adjacent to Lake MacDonald. These stories relate the epic travels of the Creation Ancestors who brought the land and all its life forms into being as they passed across the country.  George Ward Tjungurrayi had lived close to his land all his early life before his family made contact with the white settlers, and they finally visited relatives who had joined the settlement of Papunya on the edge of the desert country.

NGV curator Judith Ryan comments further on George Ward’s painting- “It’s refined and refined over many layers, and that gives it a reverberative shimmer, a final precision of detail. Art of this kind has immense potency. It’s not difficult at all for today’s collectors to have a passion for it, because it’s minimal. It’s towards the minimal edge in terms of design, and in its lack of figuration and restricted palette.” In 2004 George Ward Tjungurrayi was the winner of the Wynne Prize for landscape painting at the Art Gallery of NSW.