1935, GREAT SANDY DESERT, WA
2022, FITZROY CROSSING, WA
MINDI RARDI, FITZROY CROSSING
Ngarralja was born at Yarrnkurnja in the Great Sandy Desert in 1935. A Wangkajunga and Walmajarri man, Ngarralja walked in from the desert with his mother and brother as a young man. He remembered his father and grandfather showing him the sites and teaching him the stories that feature in his paintings today. Ngarralja recalled seeing paintings for the first time in caves. At the time, he was still living in the bush, walking, and camping all around his Country. Ngarralja said, ‘when I paint, I think about this’.
A senior man and activist for art and culture in Fitzroy Crossing, Ngarralja served on the board of Mangkaja Arts, Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre and the Association of Northern Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists until he passed away in 2022.
Ngarralja painted the features of his Country in intimate detail, including pulany jirtirl ngapa jila (living waterholes), tali (sandhills) jumu (soakwater) and the bush foods that flourish nearby.
In this painting, Tommy May emotively depicts memories from his childhood, growing up in the desert. May’s energetic linework evokes the constant movement between places during the adventures May and his family had when the artist was a boy.
May described these memories poetically,
‘Walking up and down, around, always moving, hunting, and waking up next to water. Tracking, thinking, smelling, listening, and moving. Laying down in the shade. Singing songs in the night-time and telling stories.’
Known for his wild approach to colour and mark-making, and experimental use of mixed-media, May’s work is held in many private and public collections. In 2020, the artist won the prestigious Telstra NATSIAA award for his work Wirrkanja.