The Western Desert contemporary art movement is based on the narratives of Tjukurrpa or what is more widely known as the Dreaming or Dreamtime. A better translation might be the Law, for these narratives express and regulate the Aboriginal worldview. On one level they explain how the world is the way it is. They are repositories of knowledge about animals, plants, food, medicine and history. Their significance is practical rather than mystical, such as providing topographical descriptions that enable one to find water or travel across the desert. On another level the narratives show how life should be lived today so that the laws of nature laid down in the ancestral past are not violated. The idea of a deep continuity between the past and the present is a fundamental principle of the Dreaming. It means that contemporary events, no matter how new and unexpected, must be interpreted in light of the Dreaming.
Helicopter's paintings can be appreciated simply on a formal level as mesmerizing aesthetic abstractions, however, Helicopter brings his country to life in his paintings. In his paintings Helicopter reveals and aligns the bones of his country, searching for a pulse of energy through the radiance of colour vibrations that might unblock the spirit.Like many other Western Desert painters, Helicopter developed a highly individualistic and easily recognizable style. In the mid 1960s Lucy Yukenbari, married Helicopter.
Lucy was a respected senior custodian in her own right, with a vast knowledge of the waterholes in the Great Sandy Desert. Together Helicopter and Lucy would become the best-known painting couple of the Balgo community. Soon after Lucy started painting in the late 1980s, Helicopter began helping her complete her canvasses. A quietly creative artist, she soon developed her own unique style of converging her dotting into thick lines of pigment and single fields of colour across the canvas. Her iconic use of large black circles to represent waterholes and soakwaters together with the distinctive addition of dark green and blue, gave her work an individual style, unique to desert Aboriginal art.
Both Helicopter's and Lucy's work has been exhibited in Canada, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States. Their stature as artists is cemented and market value reflects an accomplished maturity. Together Helicopter and Lucy have six grown-up children and a score of grandchildren. Their daughter Christine Yukenbarri is also an acclaimed artist.
Erica Izett - former Art Coordinator, Warlayirti Artists Balgo, Western Australia.