Ronnie Tjampitjinpa was born in Pintupi land at Muyinnga, about 100 kilometres west of the Kintore Range, just across the Western Australian border. He is the son of Uta Uta Tjangala’s older brother, Minpuru Tjangala (c.1899–1976).
After his initiation into Pintupi law at the site of Yumari, Tjampitjinpa and his younger brother Smithy Zimran Tjampitjinpa walked into the Aboriginal community of Yuendumu. They later joined their parents and other siblings – who had come in to Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff) in 1956 from the Dover Hills/Yumari area – at the new settlement of Papunya. Tjampitjinpa worked as a labourer, assisting with the fencing of the aerodromes at Papunya and Ikuntji. He was one of the youngest of the group of men who began painting at the start of the Western Desert art movement in 1971, and was a founder of Papunya Tula Artists.