Ray James Tjangala (Pintupi, born 1958) is considered to be among the most significant artists to represent the new generation of artistic talent from Papunya Tula, the birthplace of contemporary indigenous art movement.
Ray is the son of Anatjari Tjampitjinpa (1927-1999), who was one of the founders of the Papunya ArtistsCollective. Under his father’s instructions and tutelage, Ray had established by the middle of the 1990s an artistic reputation which recognised him as one of the most important exponents of the second generation Kiwirrkurra artists.
The artist’s paintings have been profiled in numerous exhibitions throughout Australia in Adelaide, AliceSprings (with Papunya Tula Collective), Brisbane (with Fireworks Galleries),Canberra, Darwin, Melbourne (notably with Gabrielle Pizzi and Scott Livesey galleries), Sydney (with Utopia) and Perth; as well as abroad, notably inSingapore, London, and New York. His paintings were also included in landmark survey exhibitions of indigenous art in art museums in Australia (AGNSW, NGV,MAGNT) and abroad (Spain, Italy, Denmark, Germany, and the United States).
Ray James was a finalist in the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award, and his paintings reside in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery ofNew South Wales, National Gallery of Victoria, selected regional and tertiary collections across Australia, as well as notable corporate and private collections in the United States, Denmark, Germany, Spain, and other countries across the world.
The present painting comes from Tingari Tjukurrpa cycle, a Dreaming sacred to Ray’s Pintupi kinsmen. The Dreaming narrates the journey of the Tingari elders, who travelled across the breadth and width of (what is known today as) the Western Desert, defeating evil spirits and establishing sacred sites. When encountering local communities, they performed initiation ceremonies which taught the communities about the laws and rituals of the land, about the topography and inhabitants of the surrounding regions, as well as teaching them such practical skills as gathering and locating sources of food and water.
The Tingari Tjukurrpa is considered to be among the vastest (known)Dreaming cycles, sacred to a number of indigenous communities. The initiated artists from different groups and regions depict either a particular aspect of the Tingari elders’ journey, or a particular ceremony associated with the Dreaming.
Ray James’s painting, for example, shares ceremonial markings traced on the bodies of young men in the course of coming of age or initiation ceremonies. The markings narrate the ceremonial rituals relating to the sojourn of the Tingari elders at the soakage water site of Yunala, west of Kiwirrkurra in Western Australia. The colours and shapes of the markings refer cumulatively to the rituals associated with the ceremonies, the topographical features of the area, as well as sources of water and edible plants, including the roots of the bush banana, which is found naturally in abundance in the region.
Though painted with acrylics, the choice of pigments references the local colours of the Yunala region as well as the origins of indigenous art in the sourcing of naturally found ochres for ceremonial decorations of bodies and sacred objects. Hence, the palette is dominated by yellow, brown, and black. The underpainting layers of black and two shades of brown are revealed beneath the outer ‘membrane’ of markings indelicate yellows, painted sequentially and progressively, with near-uniform dots, applied across and outwards from the central demarcation line of the overall compositional structure.
While some of Ray James’s paintings feature geometrical designs, the present work is remarkable for its organic and fluid formations. While still conveying a conceptualisation of the topographical space, the sensation of movement (or, in more contemporary terms, the perception of the optical illusion) created by the painting can be ascribed to the artist’s aim to capture, through the visual language of indigenous iconography, the spatial progress of the Tingari elders as well as the way in which the Tingari Tjukurrpa designs would move and undulate hypnotically when applied to the bodies of young men performing ritual movements on ceremonial occasions.