Warlugulong bears artist's name and Tribal Art Gallery catalogue number TAG POO5492 on the reverse synthetic polymer paint on linen 136 x 213cm
PROVENANCE: Painted at Warrandyte, Victoria in 1988 Purchased in 1993 at Tribal Art Gallery, Melbourne Private collection, Switzerland
Warlugulong is the site of the epic Fire Dreaming that connects the Anmatyerr, the artist's people, with several other groups across the western deserts. The site lies about 300 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs, in the far west of Anmatyerre country.
The narrative concerns the two sons of Lungkata the ancestral Blue-Tongued Lizard who refused to share their catch of kangaroo with their father, as is customary. Angered by their greed, Lungkata creates a bushfire that spreads across the land after the fleeing sons. It eventually engulfs the two men and burns them to death. The Dreaming is a cautionary tale about Aboriginal customs. Fire is also used as a tool to manage the land across Aboriginal Australia: burning tracts at various times of year engenders new plant growth that in turn attracts large game to be hunted.
In this painting, Clifford Possum focuses on the aftermath of the boys' demise. Their skeletons lie either side of a fire burst that was created by Lungkata by striking the earth with his flickering tongue. The meandering patchwork of coloured dots that form the ground of the canvas suggest an atmosphere of smoke and haze. The sons' hunting weapons are depicted beside their skeletons: the spears, spear-throwers, stone-blade knives and tasselled fire-beaters. The symmetrical arrangement of these elements is characteristic of Anmatyerr paintings of ancestral subjects.
The significance of the Fire Dreaming at Warlugulong to the artist is attested to by the frequency with which he returned this theme. The earliest known examples are two bushfire paintings on board, painted in 1972, in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia (see Vivien Johnson, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia, 2003, pp.72-3). Clifford Possum's first large scale work about Warlugulong was painted with the assistance of his brother Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri (c.1929-1984) in 1976 and it now hangs in the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Johnson 2003:90-1). An even more adventurous related work is the monumental Warlugulong, 1977, now also in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia (Johnson 2003:94-5). Another version was commissioned by the Federal Airports Corporation in 1991 and now hangs in the passenger terminal at Alice Springs airport.