Clifford Possum AO

Quick Facts

  • Name: Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri
  • Born: c. 1932 Napperby Station, Northern Territory
  • Died: 2002, Alice Springs
  • Chair of the Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
  • Order of Australia Medal


Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri was a significant Aboriginal artist. Possum's parents were from the Anmatyerre people, and he was born in an isolated, dry creek bed, 200 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs, in June 1932. Possum was one of the first Aboriginal artists to use acrylic paint for what is now known as the dot art style. Possum's work attracts attention, nationally and internationally, for its bold use of colour and its depiction of the ‘Dreaming', Aboriginal ancestral stories.

Possum first worked as a stockman on many of the cattle stations in the region around his ancestral land in the Northern Territory. While working as a stockman he began his career as an artist, establishing a reputation as one of the finest wood carvers in the area. It is for his paintings, however, that Clifford Possum is best known.

He began painting in the 1970s, while living in the Papunya community in the Northern Territory, when the son of another great Aboriginal painter, Albert Namatjira, gave him acrylics to work with. Abandoning the watercolourist techniques that defined Albert Namatjira's work, Possum's work depicted the traditional, 'dreaming' stories of the Western Desert people, and he is considered one of the leaders of the Western Desert Movement. The Western Desert Movement includes those original artists of the Papunya community in the 1970s, who, knowledgeable in the traditional art of the 'Dreaming', first used non-Indigenous materials for its expression. From that time on, Clifford Possum, along with other artists from the Western Desert, began to take Aboriginal art in a new direction, painting the landscapes and 'dreaming' of their people in the Western Desert area in contemporary, dot painting designs.

One of Possum's most famous paintings is the magnificent 168.5 x 170.5 cm canvas, Warlugulong, the result of a collaboration with his brother Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri, which now hangs in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Another, Emu Corroboree Man, fetched over $400,000 at auction in 2005. It was first bought for $100 in 1972.

Possum's paintings are exhibited in many galleries in Australia, including the National Gallery in Canberra and the National Gallery of Victoria. His works are also in galleries around the world. In 1988, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri became the first Indigenous artist to be accorded a solo exhibition in a European art gallery, when his works were exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. Having his work revered in this way was not only a personal achievement, it was also a milestone for traditional Indigenous art, which had by then, through Possum's work, been accepted as contemporary art. Clifford Possum died in Alice Springs in June 2002, soon after being recognised for his contribution to Australian art by being made an Officer of the Order of Australia.



  • Johnson, V. The Art of Clifford Possum Japaltjarri, Art Gallery of South Australia 


  • Desert Dreamers, BBC, 1976