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Born around 1938 at Haasts Bluff, Turkey and his family lived a blend of traditional life and white settlement life. His family drifted around traditional country near Kintore and the Hermannsburg Mission. Shortly after Turkey was born his family stayed in the area of Haasts Bluff.
When the Papunya settlement was established and began to grow, Turkey and his family came from the bush and settled there. This was in 1959 shortly after Turkey's initiation into manhood. Turkey then worked as a laborer on the new constructions and moved to an outstation near Papunya. After his first wife died, he moved back to Papunya and joined the local and growing artist group. This was in 1971, the beginning of the Aboriginal Art Movement. Being one of the youngest artists involved with the beginning of the Papunya Tula Art movement in 1971, he was influenced by many of the older artists. He then took this knowledge and developed his own unique style with his interpretation of the Dreamings; emerging as one of the stars of the Papunya Tula Art Movement.
Though firmly based in traditional culture, Turkey Tolson was one of the first non-urban artists to use western mediums and techniques to create landscapes in the European Manner. By working outside of the traditional Aboriginal framework, Turkey was able to develop both methods of expression.
Returning to his traditional form, Turkey created austere compositions which speak beyond the intellect and directly to the spirit. Using lines, arcs, hatch motifs and occasionally dots, he camouflages his ancestral designs and marks from the uninitiated. Each painting has individual significance and importance. This style is the classical severely traditional Pintupi style of circles and connecting lines. Turkey is one of the few who paints using the best of all worlds
"I think about my work and my painting. I think about my father's place and I put it in my memory. I think about how I'm going to paint. I started painting a long time ago. Different styles, each time a different style. I change my style from painting to painting."
Turkey paints the Bush Fire, Emu, Snake, Woman and Mitukutajarrayi Dreamings, which are from his traditional country South of Kintore around Yuwalki, Mitukutajarrayi and Putjya Rock Hole. Within Turkey's paintings there is the idea that the whole cluster involved, the songs, the ceremonies, the body painting, the ground painting, the place itself, plus the whole human heritage that it represents (Turkey's and his father's lives) can be absorbed by the experience of viewing the work. Turkey’s work is important to the spirituality of this land and bridging the gap between western and traditional art.
Turkey’s work has been exhibited extensively throughout Australia and overseas. Turkey was an artist in residence at Flinders University in 1979 and featured in the documentary ‘Market of Dreams‘. Others shows include 1977 Nigerian Festival, Lagos, Nigeria; 1981 ‘Mr Sandman Bring Me a Dream,‘ touring exhibition; 1982 Brisbane Festival; 1985 National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; 1985 Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne; 1985 Art Gallery of South Australia; 1988 Expo ’88, Brisbane; 1988 Asia Society Galleries, New York, USA; 1990 National Gallery of Modern Art , Rome; 1991 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; 1991 Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand; 1993 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, Germany; 1992\3 ‘New Tracks Old Land: An Exhibition of Contemporary Prints from Aboriginal Australia’ toured the U.S.A; 1993 Hayward Gallery, London; 1993 Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark; 1995 Groninger Museum, The Netherlands; 1995 Susquchanna Art Museum, Harrisburg, USA; 1997 ’Dreampower’, Adelaide. In 1997 Turkey Tolson and Joseph Jurra Tkapaltjarri traveled to Paris to create a sandpainting as part of the exhibition 'Peintres Aborigenes d'Australie' at the Establissement Public du Parc de la Grande Halle de la Villette. 1998 ‘Sztuka Aborygenow,‘ (Art of the Aborigines), Warsaw, Poland; 1999 Flinders Art Museum Flinders University, Adelaide; 1999 Embassy of Australia, Washington, USA.; 2000 ‘Genesis and Genius’ exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales; 2001 ‘Icons of Australian Aboriginal Art,’ Singapore; 2001 Galerie Knud Grothe, Charlottenlund, Denmark; 2001/2 ‘Recounting the Essence of Life: Art from Australia’, Kunstforum HDZ, Germany. In 2001/2 after the artist’s death earlier in the year the Art Gallery of New South Wales held a solo exhibition ‘Ngurra Kutu’ (Going Home) as a tribute to the passing of this desert master. In 2003 Turkey was included in the show ‘Big Country: Works from the Flinders University Art Museum Collection’, Flinders University City Gallery, Adelaide. Recent international exhibitions include 2001-2004 ‘Mythology and Reality: Contemporary Aboriginal Desert Art from the Gabrielle Pizzi Collection’ which toured Palazzo Bricherasio Turin, Italy; AAM Utrecht, Netherlands; Jerusalem Centre for the Performing Arts, Israel; SH Ervin Gallery, Sydney; Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, Australia.
Turkey is represented in all major Australian collections and many overseas, including: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Museum of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; South Australian Museum, Adelaide; Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; Berndt Museum of Anthropology, University of Western Australia, Perth; Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide; Papunya Tula Artists; Westpac Gallery, Melbourne; Artbank; National Gallery of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan; Hudson River Museum, New York, USA; Robert Holmes a' Court Collection; The Kelton Foundation Santa Monica, USA.
Turkey Tolson passed away in 2001 and will be remembered for the enormous contribution he made to Aboriginal art in Australia as one of the founding desert masters.