Michael Nelson Jagamara was born some time around 1946-49 at Pikilyi (Vaughan Springs) west of Yuendemu, in
Central Australia. He is a Warlpiri and Luritja speaker.
As a young boy, his grandfather taught him sand and body paintings and painting on shields. His country lies at the intersection of several major Dreaming paths and his paintings depict these many sacred sites. He is the custodian of many Dreaming stories and believes it is his responsibility to preserve, in paint and print, the
stories that can assist the teaching of others about his tradition and culture.
Michael Nelson Jagamara grew up in the bush and remembers hiding in fear at his first sight of white men at Mt Doreen station. He lived at Haasts Bluff until his parents took him to the mission school at Yuendemu for a European
education. He left school at thirteen, after initiation, and worked at buffalo shooting, driving trucks, droving cattle and in the army, before returning to Yuendemu and then settling at Papunya in 1976.
He began painting in 1981 at Papunya where he still lives today with his wife Marjorie. There he observed the work of older artists and by 1983 he had began to paint regularly. He paints Possum, Snake, Two Kangaroos, Flying Ant and Yam Dreamings from the area around Pikilyi as well as lightning, rain, shields and sacred sites. He paints several Dreaming stories on a single work: “I thought to myself – I’ll do different way to them mob instead of copying them. Do my own way”.
In 1984 he won the National Aboriginal Art Award; in 1986 he exhibited in the Biennale of Sydney. In 1987 an 8-metre painting by him was installed in the foyer of the Sydney Opera House and he is also the designer of the 196 square metre mosaic in the forecourt of the National Parliament building.
He visited the USA with Billy Stockman in 1988 for the opening of the “Dreamings: Art of Aboriginal
Australia” exhibition in New York. In 1989 he had his first solo exhibition, followed by shows in 1990 and 1993. In 1993 he received the Order of Australia Medal for services to Aboriginal art, and in 1994 he received a Fellowship from the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council.
He is the subject of a major publication by Vivian Johnson (Michael Jagamara Nelson, 1997).