Michael Jagamara Nelson

1989 BMW M3 Group A Race Version

All good things take time. In just seven days the Australian artist Michael Jagamara Nelson transformed a black BMW M3 into a masterpiece of Papunya art. Nelson learned this ancient method of painting from his grandfather and was awarded the national prize for aboriginal art.

Papunya artists paint traditional sand picture shapes and forms on canvases; in this case onto the bodywork of a BMW M3. The seemingly abstract, mosaic-like Papunya paintings symbolize landscapes and animals.

The age of this method of painting was in stark contrast to that of the technology in the eighth BMW Art Car. The 300 bhp Art Car was an immense success in Australian motorsport back then as Tony Longhurst won the Australian championship in 1987 in one of the same cars.


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Michael Jagamara Nelson | Australia

Nelson, born in 1949 in Pikili, Australia, belongs to the Warlpiri tribe and grew up in the traditional Aborigine lifestyle. He left school at the age of 13 and made a living as cattle rearer, buffalo hunter and truck driver. In 1983 he learned the ancient painting techniques of his ancestors in Papunya from his grandfather, deriving a new style from them.

Very shortly afterwards, in 1984, he won the national prize for Aborigine art and has since been considered one of the leading artists of the “Papunya-Tula” movement. His works are increasingly seen at exhibitions both within Australia and all over the world – including in Sydney, London, New York and Chicago.

Nelson’s most outstanding works include a large mosaic on the forecourt of the Australian parliament building in Canberra and an equally impressive mural in the northern foyer of the Sydney Opera House.

1989 BMW M3 Group A Race Version

  • 4-cylinder inline engine
  • 4 valves per cylinder
  • Double overhead camshafts
  • Displacement: 2,332 cc
  • Power output: 300 bhp
  • Top speed: 281 km/h

Michael Jagamara Nelson and the BMW Art Car

When BMW asked Terence Measham, Director of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, to recommend a native artist who could paint a racing car, the reply was immediate: Measham suggested Michael Jagamara Nelson. Nelson’s basic car was a black M3 racing model which he transformed in a BMW paint shop on the basis of his own designs.

After seven days of tireless work, the result was a masterpiece of Papunya art. The geometric shapes and patterns appear deceptively abstract: those familiar with Australian mythology will recognize kangaroos, emus, ants and possum.

“The car is a landscape as if viewed from an airplane – I have included water, the kangaroo and the possum.”

— Michael Jagamara Nelson

Papunya paintings can be understood as aerial views of landscapes. They feature diverse forms symbolizing water, caves, men and various animals. As a result they simultaneously embody religious myths (“dreaming”) which have been handed down from one Aboriginal generation to another for thousands of years. These myths represent the cultural roots of this ancient Australian race, dominating their lifestyle and beliefs and providing a source of inspiration for the future.

The BMW Art Car by Michael Jagamara Nelson originates from the Motorsport division of BMW Australia, formerly run by famous Australian racing driver Frank Gardner. In 1987 Tony Longhurst won the Australian AMSCAR Championship for the JPS-BMW Team in this car.

In the 1988 racing season, the M3 was entered by the Mobil 1 racing team and driven by multiple Australian champion driver Peter Brock and in some events by television commentator turned racing driver Neil Crompton.