Born at Mintjilpirri c 1920. As a child, Johnny lived a traditional lifestyle in the desert, never attending European school. He told me his mother was of mixed Luritja/Warlpiri/Pintupi descent and his father was Luritja/Warlpiri. He recalled his first frightened contact with whites as a big boy hiding in the trees from a plane which his people took for a “mamu” or devil. Later, the family moved in to Hermannsburg mission, where Johnny worked as a labourer constructing the airstrip. During the family’s stay at Hermannsburg, Johnny passed through the ceremonies for manhood.

From there he moved to Haasts Bluff for the construction of another airstrip, and more labouring work. He followed the road making to Mt Liebig, Yuendumu and Mt Wedge and later worked on the construction programs of various settlements. In 1954 he and Nosepeg Tjupurrula were chosen as Aboriginal representatives to meet the Queen. He was living in Haasts Bluff when the bulk of the population was moved to the new settlement of Papunya in 1960.

When Geoffrey Bardon arrived at the Papunya settlement in 1971, Johnny soon made known to him his interest in obtaining art materials. He rapidly developed a distinctive personal style of overdotting, often several layers, creating effects of what Bardon called “tremulous illusion”. He remained a major force in the painting movement until the mid ’80s, when his output was reduced by failing eyesight. Johnny’s work often depicted events around Tjikarri, Yipa, Kilyalnga and the Ehrenberg Ranges (Ilypili and Kampurarrnga) where he had established one of the first outstations in Central Australia. His work often depicts the Water Dreaming stories, notably Kalipinypa, as well as Yam, Fire and Egret stories and stories from around Nyilppi and Nyalpilala – his father’s Dreaming. Johnny lived in Papunya with his second wife Gladys Napanangka . He had two daughters from a previous marriage and two sons and six daughters from his marriage to Gladys.

Johnson, Vivien
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