Published  24/07/2002

Obituary: Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri


Born around 1932, on the Napperby cattle station to the north of Alice Springs, Clifford Possum grew up there and also at the aboriginal settlement at Jay Creek. He began wood-carving and was stimulated by meeting the members of the Hermansburg watercolour painting group, including Albert Namatjira, the founder. This gave him the freedom to paint realistic scenes on his carved works. But by the l970s, when living at Papunya where he met Geoffrey Bardon, the art teacher who worked there he was encouraged to take up painting on canvas. His work carefully blended the traditional imagery of aboriginal culture with those traces of European culture, which he had encountered. Together with his ‘brother’, Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri (who predeceased him in 1984) he embarked on a superb series of major scale paintings which ‘mapped’ his country’s sacred sites for posterity. Indeed these works have become the masterpieces of the Aboriginal culture. Apart from an increasingly important series of exhibitions in his native land, Clifford Possum was given a retrospective exhibition in 1988 at the Whitechapel Gallery, London. He may not have been completely respectful of the use of a Clifford Possum painting for one of the 747 tail fins decorated during British Airways’ ‘ethnic’ period. In l997, but took it in good heart. He knew before his death in June this year that he had been appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia, but had sadly died before its investiture by the Administrator of the Northern Territory, passing quietly into a coma at Alice Springs.

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