Thomas and his family created international headlines when they walked out of the desert west of Lake Mackay into the small Kiwirrkura community, just inside the West Australian border west of Alice Springs in 1984. Described as “The Lost Tribe”, the last known group of people to make contact with white society, they survived for so long in the harsh environment of the Australian desert through their intimate knowledge of the land and its secrets, passed down from their ancestors for thousands of years, but eventually succumbed to the lack of water and the diminishing lack of bush tucker (kangaroos, lizards, snakes, goanna, and the underground sources of food which played such an important part of their diet, for vitamins and minerals).
Thomas is brother to Warlimpirrnga and Walala, also acclaimed international artists. He began painting in approximately 1990 for the Papunya Tula Artists co-operative. In a short time he developed his own rhythmic visual language to depict country and ceremony.
Thomas depicts his sacred terrain in a strikingly unique way. His work displays uncommon strength, mathematical balance and poetic harmony. The subject of his work is the Tingari Cycle, secret song cycles sacred to men. The Tingari are a group of Ancestor Beings who the country associated with Walala’s many Dreaming sites, stretching from near the West Australian border to Central Australia. These Dreaming Sites and songs are depicted in the traditional ochre colours of the desert.
His paintings map both the physical and spiritual dimensions of his sacred country and his mastery of structure and composition put him as an artist at the forefront of contemporary painting.
Thomas is a quiet and reserved person that does not say much. People say that his mind is constantly back in time, living the traditional way of life he loved so much. Thomas has difficulty still with coming to terms with the white man’s lifestyle however when he paints he quietly “sings his way” through the story of the work.
Thomas travels between his homeland of Kiwirrkura, one of the most remote settlements in Western Australia, and currently resides at the Aboriginal community of Kintore in the Northern Territory.
Thomas’ recent exhibitions include; “Artitja Fine Art: Desert Dreamings”, Old George Gallery – East Fremantle and “Tingari Country”, Gallery Woo Mang – Paris, France in conjunction with the Australian Embassy. This joint Exhibition also featured his brother Walala Tjapaltjarri, Ronnie Tjampitjinpa and Ray James Tjangala.
Thomas’ works are held in important private and corporate collections worldwide.