Sunday, 25 May 2014


“We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.” - Kevin Rudd

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri is an Australian Aboriginal artist. He was born ca 1932 on a creek bed on Napperby Station 200km north west of Alice Springs. He is considered to be one of the most collected and renowned of Australian Aboriginal artists. His paintings are held in numerous galleries and significant collections in Australian and elsewhere, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Kelton Foundation and the Royal Collection.

Possum’s father was Tjatjiti Tjungurrayai and his mother was Long Rose Nangala. After his father’s death in the 1940s his mother married Gwoya Jungarai, better known as ‘One Pound Jimmy’, whose image was used on a well-known Australian postage stamp. Possum’s  brother was Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri  (1929-1984), whose artwork appeared on another stamp.

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri was the most famous of the contemporary artists who lived around Papunya, in the Northern Territory’s Western Desert area, when the acrylic painting style (known popularly as “dot art”) was initiated. Geoffrey Bardon came to Papunya in the early 1970s and encouraged the Aboriginal people to put their dreaming stories on canvas, stories which had previously been depicted ephemerally on the ground. Clifford Possum emerged as one of the leaders in this school of painting, which has come to be called the Western Desert Art Movement. Possum was of the Anmatyerre culture-linguistic group from around Alherramp (Laramba) community. He was of the Peltharr skin.

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri received no formal education and spent his early years as a stockman during which time he also became an accomplished wood carver. Whilst in Papunya in early 1970s, he was persuaded to join Geoffrey Bardon’s Papunya Artists group by his brother, Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri. Clifford Possum was a pivotal figure in the development of aboriginal art as we know it today, initially through his refinement of dot art and later via his exploration of increasingly complex and diverse iconography. He is particularly noted for his series of five map style paintings which gave an indigenous perspective of the geography of his country. One of those paintings, “Warlugulong” (1977), recently broke the auction record for Australia aboriginal art, selling for $2.4 million at Sotheby’s.

Chairman of Papunya Tula Artists from 1980 to 1983 and again in the late 1980's, Possum went on to exhibit in Australia and overseas and was awarded the Order of Australia for his services to art and the indigenous community. Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri led a groundbreaking career and was amongst the vanguard of Indigenous Australian artists to be recognised by the international art world. Like Albert Namatjira before him, Clifford Possum blazed a trail for future generations of Indigenous artists; bridging the gap between Aboriginal art and contemporary Australian art.

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri died in 2002 in Alice Springs. His two daughters, Gabriella Possum Nungurayyi and Michelle Possum Nungurayyi, are renowned artists in their own right. There was legal controversy surrounding his burial, as his surviving family and community maintained he wished to be buried in a location different from that specified in his will. He was buried at Yuelamu, which had been the preference of his community and daughters, several weeks after his death.

The painting above is “Honey Ant and Rock Wallaby Dreaming” (1996) Synthetic polymer paint on linen 160x245cm. The wallaby can be seen in this painting by the tail and paw tracks through the middle of the painting and the arcs running along the top and bottom, which represent a body paint design. The part-circles represent honey ant nests, some of which have been partly buried due to a large storm, and the white bean shapes represent the queen ants. Aboriginal art is rich in symbols and some of these can be seen here.

This Art Sunday post is in honour of Australia’s National Sorry Day (an Australia-wide anniversary held on May 26th every year since 1998). The day gives people the opportunity to come together and share the steps towards healing for the Stolen Generations of indigenous children, their families and communities. Stolen Generations refer to Indigenous Australians who were forcibly removed from their families and communities in order to assimilate them into white society. More information here.


  1. Fantastic artist and painting!

  2. I don’t know why but till my childhood I have found Aboriginal Art too fascinating. Even at that time it was not so popular either. Anyway thanks for this great share.