Region: Pikilyi (Vaughan Springs) Western Desert
Community Centre: Papunya
Country: Mt Singleton, Pikilyi
Language Bloc: Warlpiri
Social Affiliations: LuritjaJakamarra subsection
Subjects and Themes: Possum, Snake, Two Kangaroos, Flying Ant, Yam, Rainbow Serpents
An ambassador for Aboriginal Art and people Michael Nelson Jagamarra would need no introduction to anyone who has followed Aboriginal art since the early 1980’s.
"Possum and Wallaby Dreaming" by Michael Nelson Jagamarra
The giant granite mosaic pavement in the open Forecourt of the new Parliament House in Canberra (Australia) was a major architectural commission designed by Michael in 1988.
In 1984 when he won the inaugural National Aboriginal Art Award in Darwin, Aboriginal Art was only just beginning to rapidly expand.
Born at Pikilyi (Vaughan Springs), west of Yuendumu, c.1949, he grew up “in the bush” “without clothes,” first seeing white men at Mt Doreen Station. He remembers hiding in the bush in fear. Michael lived at Haasts Bluff for a time with the same family group as his brother, Long Jack Phillipus.
Later his parents took him to Yuendumu for European education at the mission school.
Michael left school at thirteen, after initiation, and worked buffalo shooting (1962, on the East and South Alligator Rivers), driving trucks, droving cattle, also in the army, before coming back to Yuendumu and then to Papunya to settle and marry his current wife, Marjorie.
Michael came to Papunya in 1976, working for a time for the government store and for the Council, observing the work of the older artists for years before beginning to paint regularly for himself in 1983.
Michael’s parents were both Warlpiri, and his father was an important “medicine man” in the Yuendumu community. After his father’s death in 1976, Michael worked under the instruction of his uncle, Jack Tjupurrula.
When BMW asked him to hand paint one of their M3 race cars as part of it’s Art Car Project, he joined the ranks of some of contemporary art's most illustrious names like Alexander Calder, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol.
His works have taken a different artistic expression than his early traditional dot style dreamings that earned him widespread recognition and acclaim.
One of his paintings given the honour of being painted onto thousands of small tiles, and transformed into a large mosaic adorning the forecourt to Parliament House in Canberra.
His newer works have imagery associated with his inherited dreamings, without the entire stories.
He uses less traditional and more bold colours, large, contrasting imagery and symbols used as a focus for the art.
It appears to be an evolution from Aboriginal elder portraying his dreaming stories with paint, to an artist using imagery and symbolism from the culture of the world’s oldest living race of people, in a bold expression of art.
He has a brother who is also a reknown established aboriginal artist, Long Jack Phillipus.
Michael paints Possum, Snake, Two Kangaroos, Flying Ant and Yam Dreaming’s for the area around Pikilyi.
In 1989 he had his first solo exhibition in Melbourne at the Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi and participated in the BMW Art Car Project by hand-painting an M3 race car. His wife Marjorie Nelson Napaltjarri, and sister, Violet Nelson Nakamarra, also paint, in Marjorie’s case mainly on the backgrounds of her husband’s large commisions e.g. Opera House and BMW projects.
1986 Biennale of Sydney and was included in “The State of the Art,” a British art documentary.
1987 A 27’ (8.2m) painting by Michael Nelson was installed in the foyer of the Sydney Opera House.
1988 He was introduced to the Queen at the opening of the new national Parliament as the designer of the 196 square metre mosaic in the forecourt to Parliament House in Canberra, ACT.
1985- His painting “Five Stories” was one of the most reproduced works of Australian Art of the
1980’s. It appears on the cover of the catalogue of the Asia Society’s “Dreaming” Exhibition
which toured in the USA in 1988 ~ 1990. The artist travelled New York with Billy Stockman for
the opening of the show.
1989 BMW commissioned Michael to paint a BMW M3, which was used by BMW to promote The
sale of it’s products by exhibiting it throughout the world and using reproductions of it in
advertising and promotional material.
2000 – Papunya Tula, Genesis & genius
Parliament House National, Canberra
Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Holmes `a `Court, Perth
Australian Museum, Sydney
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Art Gallery of Western Australia
Vizard Foundation Art Collection
Museums and Art Galleries of Northern Territory
South Australian Museum
Art Gallery of South Australia
Broken Hill Art Gallery
1984 – Winner National Aboriginal Art Award
1993 - Received the Australia Medal for services to Aboriginal Art an Artist’s Fellowship, Visual Art Board, Australia Council