Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula

DOB: c.1938-2001
BORN: Haast Bluff, N.T.

Born around 1938 at Haasts Bluff, Turkey and his family lived a blend of traditional life and white settlement life. His family drifted around traditional country near Kintore and the Hermannsburg Mission. Shortly after Turkey was born his family stayed in the area of Haasts Bluff.

When the Papunya settlement was established and began to grow, Turkey and his family came from the bush and settled there. This was in 1959 shortly after Turkey’s initiation into manhood. Turkey then worked as a laborer on the new constructions and moved to an outstation near Papunya. After his first wife died, he moved back to Papunya and joined the local and growing artist group. This was in 1971, the beginning of the Aboriginal Art Movement. Being one of the youngest artists involved with the beginning of the Papunya Tula Art movement in 1971, he was influenced by many of the older artists. He then took this knowledge and developed his own unique style with his interpretation of the Dreamings; emerging as one of the stars of the Papunya Tula Art Movement.

Though firmly based in traditional culture, Turkey Tolson was one of the first non-urban artists to use western mediums and techniques to create landscapes in the European Manner. By working outside of the traditional Aboriginal framework, Turkey was able to develop both methods of expression.

Returning to his traditional form, Turkey created austere compositions which speak beyond the intellect and directly to the spirit. Using lines, arcs, hatch motifs and occasionally dots, he camouflages his ancestral designs and marks from the uninitiated. Each painting has individual significance and importance. This style is the classical severely traditional Pintupi style of circles and connecting lines. Turkey is one of the few who paints using the best of all worlds.

I think about my work and my painting. I think about my father’s place and I put it in my memory. I think about how I’m going to paint. I started painting a long time ago. Different styles, each time a different style. I change my style from painting to painting.”

Turkey paints the Bush Fire, Emu, Snake, Woman and Mitukutajarrayi Dreamings, which are from his traditional country South of Kintore around Yuwalki, Mitukutajarrayi and Putjya Rock Hole. Within Turkey’s paintings there is the idea that the whole cluster involved, the songs, the ceremonies, the body painting, the ground painting, the place itself, plus the whole human heritage that it represents (Turkey’s and his father’s lives) can be absorbed by the experience of viewing the work. Turkey’s work is important to the spirituality of this land and bridging the gap between western and traditional art.

Turkey Tolson passed away in 2001 and will be remembered for the enormous contribution he made to Aboriginal art in Australia as one of the founding desert masters.

Link to Art Gallery of NSW – Turkey Tolson Collection

  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
  • Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
  • Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
  • Berndt Museum of Anthropology, University of Western Australia, Perth
  • Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide
  • Hank Ebes Collection, Melbourne
  • Hudson River Museum, New York
  • National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
  • National Gallery of Ethnology, Osaka
  • National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
  • National Museum of Australia, Canberra
  • Papunya Tula Artists, Westpac Gallery, Melbourne
  • Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
  • Robert Holmes a Court Collection, Perth
  • South Australian Museum, Adelaide
  • The Kelton Foundation Santa Monica, CA, USA
  • Shepparton Art Museum, Shepparton VIC

1997 Turkey Tolson and Joseph Jurra Tkapaltjarri traveled to Paris to create a sandpainting as part of the exhibition ‘Peintres Aborigenes d’Australie’ at the Etablissement Public du Parc de la Grande Halle de la Villette, Paris
1997 The Desert Mob, Araluen Art Centre, Alice Springs – Finalist

Selected Group Exhibitions

2021 SIGNIFICANT, D’Lan Contemporary, Melbourne
2021 Voyage across Aboriginal Australia – Founders’ Favourites, Fondation Burkhardt-Felder Arts et Culture, Moitiers, Switzerland
2021 Papunya Tula: 50 years 1971-2021, S.H. Erwin Gallery, Sydney
2010 Desert Country, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
2001-2004 Mythology and Reality: Contemporary Aboriginal Desert Art from the Gabrielle Pizzi Collection, which toured Palazzo Bricherasio Turin, Italy; AAM Utrecht, Netherlands; Jerusalem Centre for the Performing Arts, Israel; SH Ervin Gallery, Sydney; Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
2003 Big Country: Works from the Flinders University Art Museum Collection, Flinders University City Gallery, Adelaide
2001/2 Recounting the Essence of Life: Art from Australia, Kunstforum Herz- und Diabeteszentrum, Bad Oeynhausen, Germany
2001 Icons of Australian Aboriginal Art, Singapore
2001 Galerie Knud Grothe, Charlottenlund, Denmark
2000 Genesis and Genius, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
1999 Embassy of Australia, Washington, D.C.
1999 Flinders Art Museum Flinders University, Adelaide
1998 Sztuka Aborygenow, (Art of the Aborigines), Warsaw, Poland 1997 Dreampower, Adelaide.
1995 Susquehanna Art Museum, Harrisburg, USA
1995 Groninger Museum, The Netherlands
1993 Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark
1993 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Duesseldorf, Germany
1993 Hayward Gallery, London
1992\3 New Tracks Old Land: An Exhibition of Contemporary Prints from Aboriginal Australia, toured the U.S.A
1991 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
1991 Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
1990 National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome
1988 Expo 88, Brisbane
1988 Asia Society Galleries, New York
1985 Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne
1985 Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
1985 National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
1982 Brisbane Festival
1981 Mr Sandman Bring Me a Dream, touring exhibition
1977 Nigerian Festival, Lagos, Nigeria

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