Joe ‘Helicopter’ Tjunurrayi was born in 1947 and grew up amongst the infinite sandhills of the Great Sandy and Gibson Deserts. His unique nickname was inherited when he became very sick as a young boy and was brought into old Balgo mission in a helicopter, the first helicopter many of the people had seen. Helicopter was a Maparn, a respected healer and medicine man, when he met and married Aboriginal artist Lucy Yukenbarri. Together, they painted in close collaboration throughout the early 1990’s, with Helicopter’s participation never being acknowledged – it was not until 1994 that Helicopter was encouraged to paint his own works.


The optical and textural effect of Helicopter’s works are characterised by tightly overlapping dots that create linear striations in stippled, thick impasto. His depictions of sandhill country are often contrasted by a central water hole or interconnected sites, reflecting the pivotal role played by permanent ‘living’ water sources during his youth. Throughout his career, Helicopter has made significant shifts in his colour palette, reflecting the ancient tradition of seeking out materials to depict the intensity of the desert.


Helicopter’s works feature in public and private collections around the world.