Water Dreaming for Two Children, Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula 1972

Section
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
Chapter
1.7 Paintings
Page
1.7.9

This image shows us a very different sensibility from that of how ‘the west’ sees Nature. Johnny Tjupurrula was an Aboriginal man who lived at Papunya in Australia’s remote Outback. I am the first to admit that, try as I might, I find interpreting Aboriginal ‘dot’ paintings and similar very difficult, as I get lost between the shiftng perspectives and scales (aerial at the widest to x-ray at the smallest), between the literal and the symbolic (the stick-figure humans versus the short lines representing running water), the cartographic and utilitarian (the location of important water sources) with the spiritual (the presence of the Lightning God Winpa and the hint of the great, sinuous Rainbow Serpent).

To help understand the work I turned to the current owner of the painting, the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, and their website1. On the left, two young children watch a ritual elder dance surrounded by ceremonial objects. Dense patterns of dots, circles, sinuous bands and parallel lines fill the canvas. White tracks describe watercourses, concentric circles recall waterholes or soaks and the smaller lines denote running water. Tjupurrula’s innovative and intuitive compositions often run out of the frame.

“The Australian outback is extremely dry and water resources are scarce. In Aboriginal culture, water-bearing locations are passed down through communal oral histories, and Tjupurrula was one of the custodians of an important waterhole called Kalipinypa. Kalipinya was where Winpa, the Lightning Boss, sang up a huge storm and created a series of waterholes. During 1971–1972, an unusual season of flooding rains in the region regenerated plant life, and inspired Tjupurrula to create some of his best-known paintings”.

(Hunter, P. 2005. Back Paddock No. 9)

To me, the painting is both complex and simple, structured and yet dynamic, brimming with life (one is reminded of the Midnight Oil lyrics to Beds are Burning: “The western desert lives and breathes in 45 degrees”). Above all, I feel its ‘oneness’, its ‘wholeness’, a multi-dimensional, spinning orb of place and time that I can barely grasp, but can – at least – feel a hint of. To see and feel a part of such an entity must be deeply reassuring.

Interestingly, a recent Western artist, Philip Hunter, has echoes of this multi-dimensionality in his paintings, has hints of a combination of the perspective of artists like Tjupurrula with that of the Western landscape tradition. There is the combination of the aerial with the close-up, the circular lakes and waterholes, the clustering of dots and dashes, the ochre tones of the dry Wimmera where he painted, like those of Central Australia. And swirling over and around it all are these great ‘snakes’ of light, like mythical spirit paths, or story paths, or literal tracks and lines. It seems that unlike Tucker, Hunter believed that it wasn’t too late, that there could be a meeting of the rest of the world with Australia, its first people and its Nature. Perhaps there is hope here.

 

1 https://art.famsf.org/johnny-warangkula-tjupurrula/childrens-story-water-dreaming-two-children-2002702

Explore Other Paintings

1.7.1 The Wharncliffe Hours: The Annunciation of the Shepherds

This is both an interesting piece in itself, and also a fine example of much early painting of Nature and our relationship to it. Books of Hours were beautiful prayer books of medieval times and the Wharncliffe Hours originated in France in the...

1.7.2 View in the Grampians from the top of the Serra Range

This is an enlargement of the central section of this big canvas (69 x 92 cm). It takes you straight into the great clefts and crags of the mountains near my home in western Victoria, Australia. But, much more than a personal reference, this is...

1.7.3 The Repast of the Lion

With Rousseau I feel that initial responses are misleading. At first, one is carried away by the lushness, all the green vegetation and gorgeous fruits. The style of naïve primitivism also misleads one to a position of almost cartoonish optimism a...

1.7.4 Colonial Evening – Landscape after George Raper

It would be too simplistic to say that an ‘other’, intrinsic Nature can be only either sublime (Von Guerard) or fearful (Rousseau): it can be viewed through many more prisms than those. Philip Davey’s Colonial Evening is quite a different perspect...

1.7.5 The Rabbiters

 If Nature is to Philip Davey a dream, an enchanting dream, then to Russell Drysdale it is a nightmare. His paintings of Depression-era Australia are surreal, grotesque and confronting. ‘The bush’ is stripped bare by drought, pests (in this case r...

1.7.6 Explorer Attacked by Parrots

Superficially similar to Drysdale’s crushing surrealism in tone and block-like structure, Albert Tucker’s ‘Explorer Attacked by Parrots’ is more fascinated observation, humourous comment upon a collision: the collision of European myth and civilis...

1.7.7 Red Landscape

Briefly, Williams’ vast, featureless landscapes and earth tones have us back in the fatalistic ‘eternity’ of Drysdale. There is something dwarfing, eternal and elegiac about them as the horizon recedes forever and the semi-aerial view reveals the ...

1.7.8 Princess Parrot/Sceptre Banksia

I feel it wouldn’t be fair to have a section on ‘Nature paintings’ that doesn’t include scientific wildlife and botanical artists. Theirs is such a rich field and they have made such an important contribution to our understanding and appreciation ...

1.7.9 Water Dreaming for Two Children

This image shows us a very different sensibility from that of how ‘the west’ sees Nature. Johnny Tjupurrula was an Aboriginal man who lived at Papunya in Australia’s remote Outback. I am the first to admit that, try as I might, I find interpreting...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: ...
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...