Clifford Possum

DOB: c.1932- 21 June 2002
BORN: Napperby Station, NT
COMMUNITY: Alice Springs, NT

Clifford Possum

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri AO (1932 – 21 June 2002) was an Australian painter, considered one of the most collected and renowned Australian Aboriginal artists. His paintings are held in galleries and collections in Australia and elsewhere, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 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 died 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. His brother was Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri, whose artwork also appeared on a stamp.  His older brother Cassidy Possum Tjapaltjarri was a traditionalist who barely went outside the Yuelamu community and was one of the most respected elders until his passing in 2006.   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 led a ground-breaking 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 Alice Springs on the day he was scheduled to be invested with the Order of Australia for his contributions to art and the Indigenous community. His obituaries, which appeared in newspapers worldwide, generally referred to him as Clifford Possum and gave his age as about 70. While his year of birth is considered to be approximately correct, the day and month remain undocumented. 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.[4] He was buried at Yuelamu, which had been the preference of his community and daughters, several weeks after his death.

  • Artbank, Sydney
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
  • Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
  • Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
  • Berndt Museum of Anthropology, University of Western Australia, Perth
  • Broken Hill Art Gallery, Broken Hill
  • Donald Kahn collection, Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, FL, USA
  • Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide
  • National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
  • National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
  • Pacific Asia Museum, Los Angeles
  • Parliament House Art Collection, Canberra
  • Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
  • South Australian Museum, Adelaide
  • The Holmes a Court Collection, Perth
  • The Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica, CA, USA
  • Hank Ebes Collection, Melbourne
  • Fondation Burkhardt-Felder Arts et Culture, Moitiers, Switzerland

2002 Medal of the Order of Australia
1991 Mural, Alice Springs Airport
1991 Strehlow Research Foundation, Alice Springs
1985 Mural design, Araluen Centre, Alice Springs
1983 Alice Art Prize, Alice Springs
1970s and 1980s, Chairman of Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd

Selected Solo Exhibitions
1995 Group Shows & Residencies Featuring Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
1990 Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London
1988 Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri Paintings 1973-1986, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
1987 Paintings of Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Avant Galleries, Melbourne

Selected Group Exhibitions
2021 50 Years of Papunya Tula Artists, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2021 Irrititja Kuwarri Tjungu (Past & Present Together): 50 Years of Papunya Tula Artists, Part 1: 1971 – 1995, Kluge Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
2021 SIGNIFICANT, D’Lan Contemporary, Melbourne
2021 Lineage & Legacy, Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs
2021 Irrititja Kuwarri Tjungu (Past & Present Together): 50 Years of Papunya Tula Artists, Kluge Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia, USA
2021 Papunya Tula: 50 years 1971-2021, S.H. Erwin Gallery, Sydney
2020 Family Business – The Art of the Possum Family, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2020 Mapa Wiya (Your Map’s Not Needed): Australian Aboriginal Art from the Fondation Opale, The Menil Collection, Houston, TX, USA
2020 The Continuing Legacy of Clifford Possum: Clifford, Gabriella, Michelle, Coo-ee Art Gallery, Sydney
2020 Director’s Choice 2020, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2020 Paths of the Ancestors, D’Lan Contemporary, Melbourne
2019 Tiempo de Sonar, Museo Nacional de las Culturas del Mundo, Mexico-City, in cooperation with Coo-ee Gallery, Sydney
2019 defining tradition | black + white, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2019 Beyond Time, Australian Aboriginal Art, Booker Lowe Gallery, Houston
2017 Gems of the Stockroom, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2010 Desert Country, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
2006 Aboriginal Art, Art Gallery of Macquarie University, Sydney
1999 Good Vibrations – Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Pierre Garoia & Bianca Beetson, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
1999 My Dreaming, Redrock Gallery, Melbourne
1994 Yiribana, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
1994 Power of the Land, Masterpieces of Aboriginal Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
1994 Dreamings – Tjukurrpa: Aboriginal Art of the Western Desert; The Donald Kahn Collection, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich
1993-1994 ARATJARA, Art of the First Australians, Touring: Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen, Dusseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London; Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark
1993 Tjukurrpa – Desert Dreamings, Aboriginal Art from Central Australia, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
1992 Crossroads – Towards a New Reality, Aboriginal Art from Australia, National Museums of Modern Art, Kyoto and Tokyo
1991 Canvas and Bark, South Australian Museum, Adelaide
1991 Australian Aboriginal Art from the Collection of Donald Kahn, Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami
1991 Alice to Penzance, The Mall Galleries, The Mall, London
1991 Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, High Court, Canberra
1990 Songlines, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London
1990 L’Ete Australien a Montpellier, Musee Fabre Gallery, Montpellier, France
1990 Contemporary Aboriginal Art from the Robert Holmes a Court Collection, Harvard University, University of Minnesota, Lake Oswego Center for the Arts, USA
1989 Papunya Tula: Contemporary Paintings from Australia’s Western Desert, John Weber Gallery, New York
1989 Aboriginal Art: The Continuing Tradition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
1989 A Myriad of Dreaming: Twentieth Century Aboriginal Art Westpac Gallery, Melbourne; Design Warehouse Sydney [through Lauraine Diggins Fine Art]
1988 The Fifth National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
1988 Dreamings, the art of Aboriginal Australia, The Asia Society Galleries, New York
1987 Circle Path Meander, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
1987 Aboriginal Art from the Central Desert and Northern Arnhem Land, Community Arts Centre, Brisbane
1985 The Face of the Centre: Papunya Tula Paintings, Alice Springs
1985 Dot and Circle – A retrospective survey of the Aboriginal acrylic paintings of Central Australia, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne
1984 Painters of the Western Desert: Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Paddy Carroll Tjungurrayi and Uta Uta Tjangala, Adelaide Arts Festival, Adelaide
1984 Aboriginal Art, an Exhibition presented by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra
1983 XVII Bienal de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo
1982 Perspecta (with Tim Leura), Sydney
1981-82 Aboriginal Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; Australian Museum, Sydney; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
1980 The Past and Present of the Australian Aborigine, Pacific Asia Museum, Los Angeles
1980 Papunya Tula, Macquarie University Library, Sydney
1974 Anvil Art Gallery, Albury
1971-1993 Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
1971-1984 National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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