Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (Anmatyerr c. 1932–2002)

While working in the saddle, Clifford learned the stories for the country through which he travelled and participated in ceremonial cycles thus acquiring an encyclopaedic knowledge of the songlines that criss-cross Central Australia, an endowment that he would use later in his second career as an artist. (John Kean, 2011)

Born in a creek bed at Laramba near Napperby Station, Clifford grew up in the bush together with his classificatory brother, Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri. As a young man he learned the narratives of his country by traversing Central Australia with his adopted father, One Pound Jim Tjungurrayi who worked as a stockman. Clifford also worked on various pastoral stations and would carve in the evenings as a respite from this physically demanding work.

In February 1972 Clifford joined the group participating in the Men's Painting Room, being encouraged by leading artists Kaapa Tjampitjinpa and Tim Leura. Drawing on the spatial sense he developed in his carvings, Clifford soon distinguished himself for his striking three-dimensional visual effects. In 1976 he began his successful collaboration with Tim Leura with Warlugulong, the first of their major cartographic works mapping the Dreamings that criss-cross their country on an epic scale.

Clifford was voted chairman of Papunya Tula Artists in 1980, a position that he held until 1985. Later, in the wake of his growing celebrity, Clifford branched out, producing works independently. In 1988 he had a solo exhibition at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London. In 2003 the Art Gallery of South Australia staged the first Clifford Possum retrospective, a year after the artist passed away, on the same day that he was to be presented with the Order of Australia medal.

ARTS002139
Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri 1977
Anmatyerr c.1932-2002
Photo © Jon Falkenmire

Related

  • EXHI015173
    Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri
    Anmatyerr c.1932-2002
    Bush-fire I 1972
    synthetic polymer paint on composition board
    62.0 x 46.2 cm
    National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
    Purchased, 1994
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
  • EXHI015153

    Warlugulong is the first of a series of collaborative works by Clifford Possum and Tim Leura that thoroughly explores the map-like potential of a large canvas and brings together complex, interwoven narratives within an evocation of ancestral geography. Its title refers to the site of Warlukurlangu, which lies about thirty kilometres south of Yuendumu, where a great ancestral fire began. Lungkata, the Blue-tongue Lizard Man, had rested at this site. His two sons following behind, speared a kangaroo, cooked it, and greedily ate it all. The father sensed what had happened and determined to punish them. He blew on a firestick until it glowed, then touched it to a bush. The bush exploded into flame, as the painting illustrates, then burnt everything in its path and soon the two brothers were fighting the flames. Far to the south they perished, going into the ground as the bushfire lost its fury and died.

    Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri
    Anmatyerr c.1932-2002
    Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri
    Anmatyerr c.1929-1984
    Warlugulong 1976
    synthetic polymer paint on canvas
    168.5 x 170.5 cm
    Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
    Purchased, 1981 (321.1981)
    Photo: Ray Woodbury
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
  • EXHI015174
    Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri
    Anmatyerr c.1932-2002
    Bush-fire II 1972
    synthetic polymer paint on composition board
    61.0 x 43.0 cm
    National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
    Purchased, 1994
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
  • Ad100683
    Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri
    Anmatyerr c.1929–1984
    Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri
    Anmatyerr c.1932–2002
    Spirit Dreaming through Napperby country 1980
    synthetic polymer paint on canvas
    207.7 x 670.8 cm
    National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
    Felton Bequest, 1988
    (O.33-1988)
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists

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