Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri

Australia 1932 - 2002


Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri
Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri
May 14, 2016
Alias of Jasmina Sevic, a researcher and author for Widewalls. She graduated from the Faculty of Political Science (Department for Journalism) in Belgrade in 2013.

Made by indigenous people of Australia, Aboriginal art and its intricate links with the Australian landscape have become a growing fascination to the national and international audiences in the past several decades. The first Aboriginal artist who gained wide recognition was Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri best known for his outstanding manipulation of three-dimensional space. His artwork – entitled Warlugulong and the result of a collaboration with his brother Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri – became the most expensive Aboriginal canvas ever sold at auction for the amazing price of $2.4 million, more than twice as much as the previous record-holder.

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri - Carpet Snake and Kangaroo Dreaming at Mt Denison, 1993, photo credits - Aboriginal Art World australia alice springs national gallery new south
Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri – Carpet Snake and Kangaroo Dreaming at Mt Denison, 1993, photo credits – Aboriginal Art World

Early Years

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri was born c. 1932 to Tjatjiti Tjungurrayai and Long Rose Nangala in Tjuirri, an area north-west of Alice Springs also known as Napperby Station. After the death of his father, his mother married Gwoya Jungarai who was the first named Aboriginal person to appear on an Australian stamp and was known as ‘One Pound Jimmy’. At the age of twelve, Tjapaltjarri began his working career as a stockman on various cattle stations across Central Australia and later was employed in the construction of the Papunya settlement. Simultaneously, he acquired his imposing linguistic repertoire of six Western Desert languages and began his career as an artist, establishing a reputation as one of the most skillful woodcarvers in the area. It is for his paintings, however, that the artist is most recognized.

Amongst painting, Tjapaltjarri was a highly skillful woodcarvers

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri - Emu Dreaming, 1996, photo credits - Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery national gallery
Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri – Emu Dreaming, 1996, photo credits – Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery

Papunya Tula Artists and Dot Paintings

Tjapaltjarri’s first opportunity to paint came in the 1970s when the son of another great Aboriginal painter, Albert Namatjira, gave him acrylics paints and the master began his work. Clifford, living at the Papunya Community in the Northern Territory was one of the first artists to be involved with the Aboriginal Art Movement. After a while, he abandoned the watercolourist techniques that defined Namatjira’s practice and began depicting the traditional, ‘dreaming’ stories of the Western Desert people. In the early 1970s, he was one of the leading members of Papunya Tula Artists group known for its innovative work with the Western Desert Art Movement popularly referred to as ‘dot painting’, which is today recognized globally as unique and integral to Australian Aboriginal art. Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri used the dot technique to give his painting an almost 3D effect and a sense of movement and rhythm. His oeuvre often depicted the stories he learnt of his country through his travels and participation in ceremonial cycles.

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri used the dot technique to give his painting a sense of movement and rhythm

australian Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri - Lightning / Water Dreaming, 1996, gallery alice springs national gallery
Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri – Lightning / Water Dreaming, 1996, photo credits – Art Speak

The Ambassador for Aboriginal Art

In 1988, Tjapaltjarri’s works were exhibited in a solo show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. It was the turning point of his career, as he became the first Indigenous artist to be given a solo exhibition in a European art gallery. Additionally, his work has been included in numerous individual and collective shows in galleries throughout Australia and beyond including France, the USA, and Brazil. He would become the most widely travelled Aboriginal artist of his generation and an ambassador for Aboriginal art throughout the globe. The most important figure in the development and promotion of Aboriginal art, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri died in June 2002 at his home in Alice Springs on the day he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. He is a highly collectable artist, and his paintings are included in such notable collections as National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Pacific Asia Museum, Los Angeles; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; and Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

Featured image: Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri – Napperby Lake (detail), 1995, photo credits – Aboriginal Art World

All images used for illustrative purposes only

YearExhibition TitleMuseum/GallerySolo/Group
2015Tracks: Land and Landscape in Aboriginal ArtRebecca Hossack Gallery, LondonGroup
2015Seattle Art Fair 2015Seattle, Washington D.C.Group
2012Origins of the Western Desert Art TjukurrtjanuNational Gallery of Victoria, Musee de quai Branly, Paris Group
2011Origins of the Western Desert Art TjukurrtjanuNational Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Group
20082nd Gallery OpeningRedRock Gallery, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2007UnknownRedRock Gallery, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2004Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri ExhibitionRedRock Gallery, MelbourneSolo
2003UnknownChapel Off Chapel Gallery, MelbourneGroup
2000Group Exhibtions and CollectionsRedRock Gallery, Melbourne Group
1999TjinytjilpaEmbassy of Australia, Washington, USASolo
1999UnknownFlinders Art Museum, Flinders University, Adelaide Group
1998Opening Group ExhibitionRedRock Gallery, Melbourne Group
1994Dreamings - Tjukurrpa: Aboriginal Art of the Western Desert; The Donald Kahn collectionMuseum Villa Stuck, MunichGroup
1994Power of the LandMasterpieces of Aboriginal Art, National Gallery of Victoria Group
1994YiribanaArt Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Group
1993Tjukurrpa, Desert Dreamings, Aboriginal Art from Central Australia (1971-1993)Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth WAGroup
1992Crossroads-Towards a New Reality, Aboriginal Art from AustraliaNational Museums of Modern Art, Kyoto and TokyoGroup
1991Aboriginal Art and SpiritualityHigh Court, CanberraGroup
1991Alice to PenzanceThe Mall Galleries, The Mall, LondonGroup
1991Australian Aboriginal Art from the Collection of Donald KahnLowe Art Museum, University of Miami, USAGroup
1991Canvas and BarkSouth Australian Museum, Adelaide Group
1990Clifford Possum TjapaltjarriRebecca Hossack Gallery, LondonSolo
1990L'Ete Australien a' MontpellierMusee Fabre Gallery, Montpellier, FranceGroup
1990SonglinesRebecca Hossack Gallery, LondonGroup
1990Contemporary Aboriginal Art from the Robert Holmes a Court CollectionHarvard University, University of Minnesota, Lake Oswego Center for the Arts, USAGroup
1989Aboriginal Art: The Continuing TraditionNational Gallery of Australia, CanberraGroup
1989Papunya Tula: Contemporary Paintings from Australia's Western DesertJohn Weber Gallery, New YorkGroup
1988Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri Paintings 1973-1986Institute of Contemporary Arts, LondonSolo
1988Dreamings, the art of Aboriginal AustraliaThe Asia Society Galleries, New York Group
1988The Fifth National Aboriginal Art Award ExhibitionMuseum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, DarwinGroup
1987Paintings of Clifford Possum TjapaltjarriAvant Galleries, MelbourneSolo
1987Circle Path MeanderNational Gallery of Victoria, MelbourneGroup
1987Aboriginal Art from the Central Desert and Northern Arnhem LandCommunity Arts Centre, BrisbaneGroup
1985Dot and Circle, a retrospective survey of the Aboriginal acrylic paintings of Central AustraliaRoyal Melbourne Institute of Technology, MelbourneGroup
1984Painters of the Western Desert: Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Paddy Carroll Tjungurrayi and Uta Uta Tjangala, Adelaide Arts festivalAdelaide, South Australia, AustraliaGroup
1983XVII Bienal de Sao PauloSao PauloGroup
1982Perspecta (with Tim Leura)SydneyGroup
1981Aboriginal AustraliaNational Gallery of VictoriaGroup
1980The Past and Present of the Australian AboriginePacific Asia Museum, Los AngelesGroup
1980Papunya TulaMacquarie University Library, Sydney Group
1974UnknownAnvil Art Gallery, Albury, New South Wales, Australia Group