Sunday, 13 June 2010

ART SUNDAY - CLIFFORD POSSUM


“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for.” - Georgia O’Keeffe

For Art Sunday today, a great Australian artist, Clifford Possum Japaltjarri. Clifford Possum was born in 1932 on Napperby Station. He worked extensively as a stockman on the cattle stations in and around his tribal country. At this time he developed an excellent knowledge of the Dreaming Trails that criss-cross the area to the north of the western McDonnell Ranges, which he depicts in painting his Dreamings.

His career as an artist began in the 1950’s when he carved snakes and goannas. By the 1970’s he was one of the most accomplished carvers in Central Australia. His first opportunity to paint came when one of Albert Namatjira’s sons gave him acrylic paints and he began his work. Clifford, living at the Papunya Community was one of the first artists to be involved with the Aboriginal Art Movement.

The art of Clifford Possum is notable for its three-dimensional aspects, although he uses traditional two-dmensional aboriginal art conventions. Many of his paintings have figurative elements, which stand out from the highly stylised dotted backgrounds. In the late 1970’s he expanded the scope of Papunya Tula painting by placing the trails of several ancestors on the same canvas in the fashion of a road map. Within this framework, he depicted the land geographically. This laid the foundation for traditional Aboriginal Iconography to be placed on canvas. The other artist working with him took his lead and removed any elements of European Art from their work. In doing so Clifford, as well as the other artists involved with the Papunya Tula Movement helped to develop the true definition of Aboriginal Art, an art revolving around a culture, The Jukurrpa.

In some of his paintings Clifford gives a visual impression of sunlight, cloud, shadow and earth to denote specific times of the day. His paintings show superlative skill, incredible inventiveness of form and are visually spectacular. Clifford's work is contemporary but essentially Aboriginal in inspiration. To appreciate its full significance it is essential to not only see its colour, composition and balance, but also its mythological context. One of the extraordinary qualities of Clifford's work and other Western Desert artists is that they are a visual writing and speak to the Aboriginal as books do to Europeans. When asked why he became an Artist, he answered:

“That Dreaming been all the time. From our early days, before European people came up. That Dreaming carry on. Old people carry on this law, business, schooling for the young people. Grandfather and grandmother, uncle and aunty, mummy and father, all that, they been carry on this, teach ‘em all the young boys and girls. They been using the dancing boards, spear, boomerang all painted. And they been using them on body different times.


Kids, I see them all the time, painted. All the young fellas they go hunting and the old people there, they do sand painting. They put down all the story, same like I do on canvas. All the young fella they bring ‘em back kangaroo. Same all the ladies, they been get all the bush fruit, might be bush onion, plum, might be honey ants, might be yala, all the kungkas (women) bring them back. Because everybody there all ready waiting. Everybody painted. They been using ochres all the colours from the rock. People use them to paint up. I use paint and canvas that's not from us, from European people. Business time we don't use paints the way I use them, no we use them from rock, teach ‘em all the young fellas.”

Clifford passed away in Alice Springs on the 21st June 2002, after recently being recognised for his contribution to Australian Art and culture, by being made an “Officer of the Order of Australia”. His final days where spent at the Hetty Perkins Nursing Home Alice Springs where he passed away surrounded by close family and friends.

3 comments:

  1. This is a beautiful painting, Nicholas. Australian aboriginal painting is very popular all over the world now and our local gallery has a few works of this type. I like the complexity and simplicity of it and the colours are always gorgeous.
    I would really like to learn more of the legends and myths that inspire such paintings.

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