Kaapa Mbitjana Tjampitjinpa was the major transitional artist between the watercolour landscape tradition of the Hermannsburg School and the Geoffrey Bardon initiated transformation of traditional Western Desert Aboriginal Art at Papunya from 1971.
From the late 1950s Kaapa Tjampitjinpa was based in Papunya, north-west of Hermannsburg, among people of several tribes and homelands. Kaapa was one of three former stockmen from Napperby cattle station, who were Anmatyerre and according to Geoffrey Bardon, the three were the most independent men at Papunya. Napperby people had escaped experience with missionaries and anthropologists. There were a few Western Arrernte people.
According to Ian McLean, three schools of art were practiced at Papunya. The best known, practiced by the Arrernte painted in the Namatjira watercolour style.
The bush Pintupi made traditional artefacts.
A third group of artists of whom Kaapa was the chief practitioner, were making hybrid wood carvings. Included in the third group were Kaapa’s Anmatyerr relatives from Napperby. Associated with the third group were ‘old men’ of senior ceremonial authority.  Other tribes at Papunya included Kukata, Ngalia, Wailbri, Loritja. (NT Census Papunya 1961, 1969)
After extensive study of the formation of the Papunya movement, Vivien Johnson dubbed the third group the ‘School of Kaapa’.  Both McLean and Johnson state that the Papunya painting movement emerged from the dynamic School of Kaapa. The other two Anmatyerr artists were Tim Leura and Clifford Possum.
As described below, Kaapa was painting in an artistic practice based on Aboriginal traditions before Bardon arrived in Papunya.
Kaapa was employed in the construction of the government settlement of Papunya. It was in Papunya that Albert Namatjira served his two month prison term in 1959 and where he created his last paintings before he died on 8 August 1959 in Alice Springs Hospital.
Kaapa was painting Hermannsburg School style watercolour scenes during the 1960s and to early 1971. Kaapa became the visionary founding leader of the transforming Western Desert art movement in a role in which he excelled.
Albert Namatjira’s fourth son Keith Namatjira lived at Papunya, at least during the early years of the Western Desert art movement. Although Keith opted to continue in the Hermannsburg style, in 1971 he paid homage both to Kaapa and a Papunya method of screening sacred symbols with dotting.
Joshua Ebatarinja, son of Walter and Cordula Ebatarinja, also lived at Papunya and started to paint in the Hermannsburg style in the mid-1960s. Joshua who died in 1973 continued in the Hermannsburg style. Both Keith and Joshua were raised in the Hermannsburg Mission culture, unlike the more traditional men who joined the new Western Desert art movement at Papunya.
Surviving pictorial landscapes by Kaapa (observed by the author) are on good quality supports, such as artists paperboard for watercolours and Fredrix canvas panels. It seems that there may have been some indirect or direct involvement through the Finke River Mission in the supply of good art materials, which Kaapa managed to obtain and adapt to watercolour painting. He had a reputation for being persuasive. Enos Namatjira also experimented with a similar type of canvas panel for at least one of his paintings created between 1960 and his death in 1966.
Kaapa in his way asserted his independence in the Government-dominated culture of Papunya. Although the FRM had a resident pastor in Papunya, the organisation and construction of Papunya and the often forced removal to the settlement of people, especially the Pintupi from far out west of Papunya was a Government initiative and activity.
An example of Kaapa’s watercolour paintings is Untitled, est. 1965-71 (watercolour on paperboard; 35 x 53 cm; Flinders University Art Museum 3076).  This was inspected by the author.
This may have been created in the Belt Range near Papunya and is in a Hermannsburg format. The tree trunks appear flat and more in silhouette than round. This is quite a fluent painting, indicating that the artist was sufficiently experienced to be at ease painting in watercolour ground washes on the paperboard, if not on the more absorbent canvas panel.
Perhaps Kaapa was guided by Keith to paint in watercolour as well as using lemon for back-lighting as demonstrated in Keith’s painting of 1971.  Kaapa named one of his sons Keith.
Kaapa created at least two paintings on canvas board but, in the paintings illustrated below, was not at ease painting smooth broad washes on the more absorbent support. These archetypal compositions are in similar country to that in Keith’s painting mentioned above.