Don Ellis Tjapanangka

Don Ellis Tjapanangka
1925 () - 1976 (Alice Springs)

Language group: Kukatja


Don Ellis Tjapanangka (1925-1976) is one of the original Pintupi shareholders and an associate of the group of senior painting men at Papunya in 1971. He is mentioned by Geoffrey Bardon as a collaborator on the Papunya School murals project. The Honey Ant Mural, a bold expression of Aboriginal culture in a government settlement, inspired immense pride in the Papunya community. This project formed the starting point for contemporary Aboriginal Art.

Don Ellis is known for the distinctive paintings he created at the time, but he did not paint many works; only three are known. In 1972, just as Western Desert painting was emerging, Don Ellis moved to Yuendumu and disappeared from the artistic record. Dick Kimber recalled that he recommenced painting briefly in the mid 70s, immediately before he was murdered by a madman in the dry sand bed of the Todd River at Alice Springs.

The paintings that Don Ellis produced in 1971 share important formal attributes. Each takes an aerial perspective of the ceremonial ground. The ceremonial participants (U-shapes) are all shown on the same scale. Arranged in pairs around campfires (roundels) they are displaced equally across the surface of the paintings in grid-like rows. The palette is minimal and governed by tradition, the red-ochre figures accented with white dots, suggesting body decorations. While the details of the particular ceremony depicted remain obscure, his paintings provide a glimpse into the principals that guide traditional desert culture.

Don Ellis was married to Rosie Purula Ikunka Napurrula, with whom he had a son and three daughters. His artistic legacy persists in the work of his granddaughter, Lorna Brown Napanunka.


Vivien Johnson, Lives of the Papunya Tula Artists, Alice Springs NT 2008, p. 46

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Boy's Story (Version 2)

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