Michael Nelson Jagamarra

Born around 1946 at Pikily west of Yuendemu, in Central Australia, aboriginal artist Michael Neslon Jagamara grew up in the bush and remembers hiding in fear at his first sight of white men at Mt Doreen station. He is a senior Warlpiri tribesman and custodian of many Dreaming stories. He 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.

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. In Papunya 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 Piklyi as well as lightning, rain, shields and sacred sites.

Michael displayed an intuitive response to colour symmetry and design. He gradually developed an “infill” technique where fields of colour transformed the canvas into a coherent image without an obvious foreground or background. 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 and was included in ‘The State of the Art’, a British art documentary.

In 1987 a 8.2 metre painting by Michael Nelson 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 new National Parliament building. His 1985 painting ‘Five Stories’ was one of the most reproduced works of Australian art of the 1980’s and appears on the cover of the catalogue of the Asia Society’s ‘Dreamings’ exhibition which toured the USA in 1988-90. 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 extraordinary modernist works belonging to the New Expressions series. After years of painting in a classical tradition of heavily worked canvases with dots, bands, circles and a modified palette, the painting surface suddenly exploded into a carnival of raw colour, gesture and action. These works are more than a liberation of brushstroke they are codes to a repertoire of complex ceremonial ground and body designs and dreaming stories.
Subject & Themes
Possum, Snake-Rainbow Serpent, Two kangaroos, Flying Ant, Rock Wallaby, Yam Dreaming, Lightning Rain, Stone Knives, Goanna, Shields and Sacred sites.
Artbank, Sydney.
Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney.
Art Gallery of SA, Adelaide.
Art Gallery of WA, Perth.
Australian Museum, Sydney,
BMW Art Car Project, USA.
Broken Hill Art Gallery.
Flinders Univeristy Art Museum, Adelaide .
Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, Darwin.
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
Opera House, Sydney.
Parliament House Art Collection, Canberra. Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.
The Holmea a Court Collection, Perth.
The Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica, USA.
Individual Exhibitions
1989 Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne.
1990 Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne.
Group Exhibitions
1984 Papunya and Beyond, Araluen Centre, Alice Springs.
1984 The First National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, Darwin.
1985 The Face of the Centre: Papunya Tula Paintings 1971-1984, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
1986 The Biennale of Sydney, Sydney.
1986 Roar Studios, Melbourne.
1987 State of the Art: Ideas & Images of the 1980’s, Institute of Contemporary Art, London.
1987 The Fourth National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, Darwin.
1987 Papunya Tula: 1982-1983, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne.
1988 Dreamings: the Art of Aboriginal Australia, The Asia Society Galleries, New York.
1989 Papunya Tula: Contemporary Paintings from Australia’s Western Desert, John Weber Gallery, New York, USA.
1989 Centro Cultural Arte Contemporeano, Mexico City, Mexico.
1989 A Myriad of Dreaming: Twentieth Century Aboriginal Art, Westpac Gallery, Melbourne; Design WarehouseSydney (through Lauraine Diggins Fine Art).
1989 Aboriginal Art: The Continuing Tradition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
1989 Windows on the Dreaming, Australian National Gallery, Canberra.
1990 National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome.
1990 Balance 1990: Views, Visions, Influences, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.
1991 Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, High Court, Canberra.
1991 Flash Pictures, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
1991 The Painted Dream: Contemporary Aboriginal Paintings from the Tim and Vivien Johnson Collection, Auckland City Art Gallery and Te Whareo Aoteroa National Art Gallery, New Zealand.
1991 Alice to Penzance, The Nall Galleries, The Mall, London.
1992 Central Australian Aboriginal Art and Craft Exhibition, Araluen Centre, Alice Springs.
1992 Crossroads – Towards a New Reality, Aboriginal Art from Australia, National Museums of Modern Art, Koyoto and Tokyo.
1993 Aboriginal Art Exhibition, Kung Gubunga Oasis Gallery, Broadbeach, Queensland.
1993 Tjukurrpa, Desert Dreamings, Aboriginal Art from Central Australia (1971 – 1993), Art Gallery of WA, Perth.
1993/4 ARATJARA, Art of the First Australians, Touring: Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London: Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark.
1996 ‘Dreamings of the Desert’ Aboriginal Dot Painting of the Western Desert, AGSA.
1998 4th National Indigenous Heritage Art Award, Art of Place, Australian Heritage Commissin, Canberra.
1998 Powerful Medicine Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane.
1999 Twenty Five Years & Beyond: Papunya Tula Painting Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide.
1999 Without the Story the painting is nothing, Brisbane City Gallery.
1999 New Expressions, Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane.
2000 Landmarks, Powerhouse Museum , Brisbane, Darr Indigenous Festival.
2000 Twenty five years and beyond: Papunya Tula Painting, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney.
Brody, A., 1985, The face of the centre: Papunya Tula paintings 1971-1984, NGV, Melbourne.
Caruana, W., 1987, Australian Aboriginal Art, a Souvenir Book of Aboriginal Art in the Australian National Gallery, Australian National Gallery, Parkes, ACT. (C)
Caruana, W. (ed.), 1989, Windows on the Dreaming, Ellsyd Press, Sydney. (C)
Caruana, W., 1993, Aboriginal Art, Thames and Hudson, London. (C)
Chanin, E., 1990, (ed.), Contemporary Australian Painting, Craftsman House, Roseville, NSW, Australia.
Cochrane, G., 1992, The Crafts Movement in Australia: a History, New South Wales University Press, Kensington, New South Wales. (C)
Crumlin, R., (ed.), 1991, Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, Collins Dove, North Blackburn, Victoria. (C)
‘Dreamings of the Desert’ Aboriginal Dot Painting of the Western Desert, AGSA catalogue 1996.
Diggins, L. (ed.), 1989, A Myriad of Dreaming: Twentieth Century Aboriginal Art, exhib. cat., Malakoff Fine Art Press, North Caufield, Victoria.
Johnson, V., 1989, ‘Running Trees,’ Tension 17, 52-55. (C)
Johnson, V., 1988, Among Others: Reply to ‘Black Canberra’, Art & Text 30, September-November, 1998.
Johnson, V., The Dictionary of Western Desert Artists, Craftsman House, East Roseville, New South Wales. (C)
Johnson,V. Michael Nelson Jakamara, Craftsman House, Sydney 1997.
Kleinert, S., 1988, Black Canberra, Art & Text 29, June-August 1988
Langton, M., 1992-93 ‘The two women looked back over their shoulders & lamented leaving their country: detached comment (recent urban) & symbolic narrative (traditional), ‘Aboriginal Art in the Public Eye, Art Monthly Australia Supplement, 7-9. (C)
McCulloch,S. Contemporary Aboriginal Art: A Guide to the Rebirth of an Ancient Culture. Allen & Unwin 1999.
Narine, S., 1987, State of the Art: ideas and images in the 1980s, Chatto & Windus, London 1993.
Aratjara, Art of the First Australians: Traditional and Contemporary Works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Artists, exhib. cat. (conceived and designed by Bernard Luthi in collaboration with Gary Lee), Dumont, Buchverlag, Koln.
Schulz, D., 1994, Lines from the Dreamtime, The Australian Way, Qantas in flight magazine, May 1994.
Smith, B. with Smith, T>, 1991, Australian painting 1788-1990, Oxford University Press, 3rd edition.
Sutton, P. (ed.), 1988, Dreamings: the Art of Aboriginal Australia, Viking, Ringwood, Victoria. (C)
Thomas,N. Possession. Indigenous Art and Colonial Culture. Thames & Hudson 1999.
Wallace, D., Desmond, M., Caruna, W., 1991, Flash Pictures, exhib. cat., National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
West, M., 1984, ‘The First National Aboriginal Art Award’ in, Australian Aboriginal Studies, Journal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, 1984, No. 1.
Zurbrugg, N., Tim Johnson interviewed, Art and Australia quarterly, Vol 29, No. 1, Spring 1991 ~ 1990, Papunya Tula exhib. cat., Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne. (C)
1990, Balance 1990: Views, Visions, Influences, exhib. cat., Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane. (C)
1993, Tjukurrpa Desert Dreamings, Aboriginal Art from Central Australia (1971-1993), exhib. cat., Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth. (C)

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