Thomas Tjapaltjarri was born sometime around 1964 in the Gibson Desert, Western Australia. Thomas and his family which includes fellow artists Warlimpirrnga, Walala, Yukultji, Yalti and Tjakaria led a completely nomadic life until they emerged from the desert, coming to Kiwirrkurra in 1984.
Dubbed "the Last Nomads" or "the Pintupi nine", they had had no contact with Western society until this point. Amazingly, he transitioned from an utterly traditional lifestyle to commencing as an artist within a matter of a few years and painting the traditional stories of his people.
Thomas paints simple, geometric designs and uses a dotting technique shared with other Pintupi artists such as his brothers, Warlimpirrnga and Walala, and with Willy and George Ward Tjungurrayi.
Thomas's works explore the stories of the Tingari cycle, a series of sacred and mythological songs connected to his birth ground. His Tingari Cycle paintings are associated with the artist's Dreaming sites located throughout the vast sandhill country of the Western Australian desert. Tingari are the legendary beings of the Pintupi people that travelled the desert performing rituals, teaching law, creating landforms and shaping what would become ceremonial sites. As far as we can know, the meanings behind Tingari paintings are multi-layered, however, the meanings are not available to the uninitiated.
It was at Kiwirrkuru that Thomas began to paint on canvas, setting down the stories and images of an unbroken cultural tradition stretching back tens of thousands of years. His style is strongly gestural and boldly graphic, one that is generally highlighted by a series of rectangles set against a monochrome background.
Thomas' paintings are exhibited widely in almost all aboriginal galleries in Australia and collected the world over.