Jimmy Pike

Jimmy, approximately 1987, felt tip pen on paper, 42.4 x 27 cm
AIATSIS Collection
[ATS 1036_176]

Jimmy Pike (approximately 1940-2002) was a Walmajarri man of the Great Sandy Desert and prolific artist intent on sharing his knowledge and love of his desert home.

In the 1980s, Pike’s innovative use of bold bright colours stood in contrast to the dominant forms of Aboriginal art of the time; the ochre toned bark and canvas paintings from Arnhem Land and Central Australia. Pike was also a trailblazer in the promotion of his art internationally. His imagery licensed to Desert Designs, became a fashion sensation not only in Australia but also in Japan, America and Europe.

Explore the Jimmy Pike Collection

Jimmy Pike was born in the early 1940s near Jila Japingka a major waterhole around 400 kilometres south of Fitzroy Crossing in the Great Sandy Desert. Jila are desert soaks that never dry out. The word ‘jila’ is often translated by desert people as ‘living water’, indicating the importance of these sites.

In the mid-1950s, Pike’s family was one of the last groups to move out of the desert, settling at Cherrabun station in the Kimberley region. As a young man Pike saw windmills, car tracks and other signs of European settlement for the very first time, on cattle station country.

Windmill, not dated, felt tip pen on paper, 38 x 25.5 cm
AIATSIS Collection
[ATS 1036_176]

Pike first explored the art materials of felt-pen drawing and linocut printing in the early 1980s. As an inmate at Fremantle Prison, Pike attended art classes organised by Stephen Culley and David Wroth, who would later establish Desert Designs.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies holds the largest collection of Jimmy Pike’s original artworks. Donated in 2016 by Pat Lowe, the artist’s wife and long-time collaborator, the collection includes over 440 individual artworks, many adapted by Desert Designs in the 1980s and 1990s into internationally renowned fashion.

Pike’s brilliantly coloured drawings and paintings depict his Walmajarri home brimming with life, countering any notion of the desert as a barren or desolate place. A recurring subject of Pike’s artworks is jilji, the long rolling sandhills that cover large parts of the Great Sandy Desert. Drawn with the thin line of felt-pens in contrasting colours, Pike’s jilji are sometimes orderly; while at other times, they appear maze-like, readable only to those who know the desert. In his self-portrait Pike has surrounded himself with jilji, presenting the artist as part of his country.

Partiri Jiljikarraji Turtapungany Kujartijiliny, not dated, felt tip pen on paper
Partiri Jiljikarraji Turtapungany Kujartijiliny
AIATSIS Collection - [ATS 1036_265]

AIATSIS would like to thank Pat Lowe and Peter Murray, CEO, Yanunijarra Aboriginal Corporation, for their support.

Further reading and sources 
  • Pike, Jimmy.  Jimmy Pike…his art and his stories. North Perth: Desert Prints, 1987.
  • Tristram, John, (director) (producer), The Quest of Jimmy Pike, 1990.
  • Lowe, Pat and Jimmy Pike. Jilji: life in the Great Sandy Desert. Broome, W.A.: Magabala Books, 1990.
  • O’Ferrall, Michael. Jimmy Pike - Desert Designs 1981 – 1995. Perth: Art Gallery of Western Australia, 1995.
  • Berndt Museum of Anthropology. Jimmy Pike's artlines : you call it desert, we used to live there. Crawley, W.A.: University of Western Australia, Berndt Museum of Anthropology, 2012.
  • Jimmy Pike Trust
Last reviewed: 9 Dec 2019