Billy Stockman TJAPALTJARRI Profile

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Born: 1927 – 2015

Region: Western Desert, NT

Community: Papunya, Mount Leibig

Outstation: Ilypili, Ilypili, Illili

Language: Anmatyerre, Aranda, Aranda, Aranda

AIAM Overall Ranking: 40

AIAM Market Ranking: 147 (2017)

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Billy Stockman TJAPALTJARRI | Men’s Ceremony

Artist Profile

From the outset, Billy Stockman was a vital figure in the Papunya art movement. He went on to become one of its most exceptional and productive figures, traveling the world as a representative of Aboriginal Culture and having his work exhibited and collected by major galleries and collectors. He stands at the transition point between the ancient and the new, his work providing a link that allows for an ongoing synthesis between cultural traditions and modern artistic practices.


Essentially spiritual, the symbols that appear in his paintings are charged with authority and religious knowledge. They are grounded in the narratives of the traditional desert culture of which he is a senior custodian of particular sites and stories. Born of the Anmatyerre-Western Arrente people, at Ilpitirri, North-West of Papunya, Billy Stockman’s first experience of white people was the Coniston Massacre in 1928 at the age of two. ‘All the people were running. I was a little one – in a coolamon. My mother hid me under a bush. My father had gone hunting. They killed my mother. I was grown up by her sister – Clifford Possum’s mother’ (Stockman cited in Kleinert & Neal 2000: 702). Billy Stockman grew up at Napperby Station (200 km west of Alice Springs,) where he was initiated and later worked as a stockman for many years. He was moved to Papunya as part of the government re-settlement program and lived on the edge of the somewhat chaotic settlement. He could often be seen there, repairing the old cars that were much valued by the new settlers, allowing them to journey back to their much-missed country. He had a large extended family and was, as Geoff Bardon described ‘a man with many obligations to all’ (2004: 85). Stockman also worked as a cook in the communal kitchens at Papunya and as a yards man at the Papunya School. It was this position that placed him so centrally within the mural painting would not aggravate the reactive atmosphere. As the painting project continued to grow, Bardon says it was Billy Stockman in particular who understood the necessity of choosing un-controversial subjects such as food gathering or children’s stories. He communicated Bardon’s concerns to the steadily growing group of painting men who nevertheless had to regularly restrain a wish to paint more momentous subjects.


As paintings began to sell in Alice Springs the demarcation between sacred and secular became clearer to the men and strategies were devised to avoid infringing tribal laws. The rules of production and reception in such intercultural transactions however continue to pose difficulties, as they still do for many indigenous cultures. Billy Stockman’s work was among the first to stir the purchasing public’s interest. He made a point of thanking Bardon personally and began to apply himself with great enthusiasm to painting. All of the men were greatly encouraged by the money received from the sale of their paintings. It was a way of improving the life of their families but also re-kindled a sense of self and community esteem among the men who had, to a degree, been estranged from their once important tribal positions. Senior men were instrumental in advising on symbols, stories and meanings during the creative process. Billy Stockman had a way of focusing on simple, self-contained vignettes. They often contained stylised, naturalistic plants and animals and a symmetry and decorative quality that appealed to buyers. This talent followed from his skill as an accomplished wood-carver.

Like many stockmen, he had learned to whittle wood and as Bardon commented ‘could turn a beanwood branch into two or three snakes in a complex inter-twining design’ (2004: 31). As the art movement gathered momentum, his life as a stockman had also prepared him for negotiating with the world of the ‘whitefella’. Billy Stockman has held many official positions, playing a critical role in the newly established Aboriginal Arts Board during the 1970’s and a stint as chairman of Papunya Tula Artists. He became a campaigner for the outstation movement and was one of the first to move to his own station at Illili, West of Papunya. Here, he continued to painting his Dreamings and instructing younger artists on the ancient knowledge, in particular the Budgerigar, Water, Snake and Wild Potatoe Dreamings of his own country. He and his wife Intinika have two sons and two daughters, of which Gillian has also become a painter. Declining health brought about his retirement to the Hetti Perkins Hostel in Alice Springs. He remains an inspiring figure and authority for the Western Desert people, a reliable, responsible and caring man who Bardon described as ’embodying all that was loving and trusting in traditional family life’ (Bardon 2004: 85)


Powder Pigment on Composition Board, Synthetic Polymer Paint on Linen and Canvas



Budgerigar, Bush Food , Butterflies, Carpet Snake, Emu, Frogs, Initiation , Kangaroo, Possum, Rain, Rainbow , Snake , Spider (Karr), Wallaby, Water



Sites Ilpitirri, Jaljikalong, Mangangi Rockhole, Mount Denison, Mount Wedge , Wakulpa



National Art Gallery of New Zealand

Australian National Gallery of Victoria

Art Gallery of Western Australia Perth

National Gallery of Victoria Melbourne

Artbank Sydney

National Gallery of Australia Canberra

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory

Art Gallery of South Australia Adelaide

Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami

Christensen Collection

Museum of Victoria Melbourne

Flinders University

Art Museum Adelaide

Australian Department of Archaeology and Anthropology

National University, Canberra

Australian Qantas Collection,

Donald Kahn collection Museum of Victoria Melbourne

Campbelltown City Art Gallery

South Australian Museum Adelaide

The Kelton Foundation Santa Monica USA

Holmes a’ Court Collection Perth


Selected Exhibitions

1971, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth Western Australia

1974, Anvil Art Gallery, Albury, New South Wales

1977, Nigerian Festival, Lagos, Nigeria

1977, Christ College, Oakleigh, Victoria

1982, Georges Exhibition, Melbourne, Victoria

1983, Mori Gallery, Sydney

1984, Anvil Art Gallery, Albury, New South Wales

1985, Dot and Circle, a retrospective survey of the Aboriginal paintings of Central Australia, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Melbourne

1985, The Face of the Centre: Papunya Tula Paintings

1971-1984, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

1987 A selection of Aboriginal Art owned by the ANU, Drill Hall Gallery, Australian Capital Territory

1988 The Inspired Dream, Life as art in Aboriginal Australia, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and touring internationally

1989 A selection of Aboriginal Art owned by the ANU, Drill Hall Gallery, Australian Capital Territory

1991 Alice to Penzance, The Mall Galleries, The Mall, London

1991 Australian Aboriginal Art from the Collection of Donald Kahn, Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, USA

1991 Canvas and Bark, South Australian Museum, Adelaide

1991 The Painted Dream: Contemporary Aboriginal Paintings from the Tim and Vivien Johnson Collection, Auckland City Art Gallery

1991 Te Whare Taonga o Aoteroa National Art Gallery, New Zealand

1992 Tjukurrpa, Museum fur Volkerkunde, Basel

1993 Tjukurrpa, Desert Dreamings, Aboriginal Art from Central Australia

1993 Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth Western Australia

1994 Dreamings – Tjukurrpa: Aboriginal Art of the Western Desert; The Donald Kahn collection, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich


Bardon, G. 2004. Papunya: A Place Made After the Story: The Beginnings of Western Desert Painting Movement. Victoria. Melbourne University Publishing. Perkins, H & Fink, H. 2000. Papunya Tula, Genesis and Genius. Sydney. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Kleinert, Sylvia & Neale, Margo . 2000. The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture. Melbourne. Oxford University Press. Galeria Aniela. A Publication of Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri by Adrian Newstead – © 2016

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