Ronnie Tjampitjinpa was born in 1943 in Tjiturrunya, Western Australia. His family moved extensively across the Pintupi and Northern Territories, living in the semi-nomadic Aboriginal manner that has been tradition for over 40,000 years. Shortly after his initiation into manhood in the early 1950's, Tjampitjinpa and his family moved to Haasts Bluff and then later joined relatives at the newly settled Papunya community, where Tjampitjinpa found work as a fencer making the yards for cattle in the surrounding area. He began painting around 1971, in response to the burgeoning desert art movement in Papunya and is now widely regarded as one of the most accomplished senior artists of the Papunya Tula School and Aboriginal Art in general.
Tjampitjinpa's work follows the Pintupi style, in which a predominance of strong circular forms and connecting lines form the basis for an artistic expression of 'the Dreaming' - the set of spiritual and creationist beliefs associated with the artist, their ancestral lineage and their 'country'. Thematically, Tjampitjinpa's work is based on the Tingari Cycle, a secret song cycle sacred to initiated men. In ancestral lore, the Tingari were Dreamtime beings who travelled across the landscape performing ceremonies to create and shape the country now associated with Dreaming sites. The Tingari gathered at these sites for Maliera (initiation) ceremonies, which were located at (and thus represented artistically by) significant rockholes, sand hills, sacred mountains and water soakages in the Western desert. The Tingari Cycle is often poetically interpreted as line paintings relating to the songs of the people and creation stories of Pintupi mythology.
Tjampitjinpa's work reflects his direct spiritual ties with his culture in a pure and unadulterated manner not achieved by most Aboriginal artists. By expressing his interpretation of the Dreaming in contemporary media, Tjampitjinpa has not only played a part in resurrecting and illuminating Aboriginal culture as a whole, but has also introduced what was traditionally an orally expressed culture into the realms of modern contemporary art, thus bridging the gap between the artistic traditions of the colonial Europeans and expressing the mores and influences of traditional Aboriginal culture. As a highly-regarded exponent of contemporary Aboriginal painting, Tjampitjinpa has aided in the promotion and education of one of the oldest cultures in the world and his work plays an important role in modern Australian culture. Today, Tjampitjinpa remains an important influence for a new generation of indigenous Australian painters.
Tjampitjinpa's works first appeared in Papunya Tula exhibitions during the 1970s, before his work was discovered by commercial art galleries in Sydney and Melbourne and exhibited extensively throughout the 1980's, culminating in successive exhibitions at Melbourne's Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi from 1987 to 1990. In 1988, Tjampitjinpa won the Alice Springs Art Prize. He was later selected for inclusion in major representative Aboriginal survey shows at the Australian National Gallery, Art Gallery of South Australia, Lowe Art Museum, and University of Miami and has held noteworthy exhibitions in Paris, Moscow, St Petersburg, Düsseldorf and Munich. Tjampitjinpa's work in the groundbreaking retrospective exhibitionPapunya Tula: Genesis and Genius at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2000 was instrumental in raising the international profile of Aboriginal art. His work is held in many public galleries and private collections, including the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of Victoria and the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, and Tjampitjinpa is the current chairperson of the Papunya Tula Artists Co-operative.