Robin Kankapankatja is a Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara man born c1930 at Walalkara, 65 kilometres south west of Kaltjiti, in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara /Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. Walalkara Country is 700,000 hectares of the Great Victoria Desert protected as the Walalkara Indigenous Protected Area (IPA)1. Tjilpi Robin’s extensive knowledge of this country - the plants, animals, seasons, and Tjukurpa2 - are the source for all of his work made at Kaltjiti Arts. (Tjilpi is a male with senior or elder status.)
Robin has been painting with Kaltjiti Arts since 2004 and I have been working with Robin since early 2011 when I was appointed Studio and Gallery Manager at the Kaltjiti art centre. In this short time Robin has become a good friend and mentor. I have also been fortunate enough to see his success as an artist rapidly rise to become one of the most highly regarded in the APY Lands. Robin paints his Tjukrurpa stories from around the mountain ranges at Mimili and all the southern area of the APY Lands from west to east and especially Walalkara. His father was Pitjantjatjara from west of Watarru and his mother was Yankunytjatjara from Makiri to the north west of Walalkara. Unusually, Robin is custodian for country that involves women’s law - minyma Tjukurpa. Ililya and Puni Puni are two such places that feature in Robin’s work.
Robin is married to Antjala Robin who is also an artist at Kaltjiti and actively involved with APY land management.
Nyangatja ngayuku ara irititja: this is my life from long ago is an important series of works that depict ancestral travelling journeys from Walalkara to Mimili and Makiri to Iliya. Anangnu are travelling in the country, looking for food, water in rock holes, adults are teaching children, making fire and cooking for all of the children. Along the journey, groups of people meet and sit down to camp. Numerous species of plants and animals are depicted within the drawings. This diaristic view depicts Robin’s memories from growing up in the bush many years ago including the time that he first saw a ‘whitefella’ as a teenage boy. “No clothes, nothing, we walked all around before all the ‘hallelujah men’ came to Pukatja” The drawings by Robin not only reinforce his deep love for his country and Anangu culture but also highlight his fearless, uninhibited, fresh style of mark making. Robin has a love for materials that appears to have no boundaries. Charcoal, graphite, oil sticks, acrylic, pastels are all used in confident combination. His sure sense of line, placement of figurative elements, and apprecition for form and colour create windows or snapshots into an 83 year old man’s memories - before anthropologists’ notes, before film documentation and before the ‘hallelujah men’. His understanding of the country, the wildlife, and the travelling journeys are intensely detailed and executed. In one drawing we see Robin illustrate the Itjari tjari - Desert Mole. The “mole radio,” as Robin says, is used to hear and track the moles movements underground. In the drawing we see the surface of the ground and what seems to be a cross section where the mole is seen burrowing underneath creating caves and pot holes - virtually an x-ray vision of the scene. Robin completed this drawing after his friend Joe Benshemesh, a past employee of APY Land Management, visited Robin to catch up and say hello. The drawing was immediately completed in what seemed a couple of minutes. The preciseness and immediacy was amazing to watch. The lack of hesitation, and confidence in the marks, observation, memory, love and appreciation for materials are testament to his skill as an accomplished artist.