Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (circa 1930-2002) Love Story
Lot 33
Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (circa 1930-2002) Love Story
AU$ 400,000 - 600,000
US$ 300,000 - 450,000

Lot Details
Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (circa 1930-2002)
Love Story
bears Stuart Art Centre consignment number 16 on the reverse of the frame; bears artist's name, title, provenance and exhibition history on an Art Gallery of Western Australia label as well as artist's name, title and exhibition details on an Art Gallery of South Australia label on the reverse of the frame
synthetic polymer powder paint on board
61 x 45cm


    Painted in 1972
    Painting number 12 in consignment 16 to the Stuart Art Centre, Alice Springs
    Private collection, Western Australia
    Sotheby's, Contemporary and Aboriginal Art, Melbourne, 18 June 1995, lot 294
    Ebes Collection, Melbourne

    Vivien Johnson, The Art of Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Sydney: Gordon and Breach Arts International, 1994, p.38, p.37, pl.4 (illus.)., pp.42-46, p.154
    Hank Ebes (ed.), Nangara: the australian aboriginal art exhibition from the Ebes collection, Melbourne: The Aboriginal Gallery of Dreamings, 1996, vol 1, p.40, cat. no.16; vol 2, cat. no.16 (illus.).
    Hank Ebes (ed.), The Australian Aboriginal Art Exhibition, Japan: The Yomiuri Shimbun, 2001, p.20 (illus.)., p.21, pp.107-108
    Susan McCulloch, Contemporary Aboriginal Art: A Guide to the Rebirth of an Ancient Culture, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2001, p.69 (illus.).
    Geoffrey Bardon and James Bardon, Papunya, A Place Made After the Story: The Beginnings of the Western Desert Painting Movement, Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, 2004, p.264, ptg.189 (illus.).
    Vivien Johnson, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia, 2004, p.64, p.65 (illus.)., p.66, p.219 (illus.)., p.220
    Kasper Konig et al. (eds.), Remembering Forward: Australian Aboriginal Painting since 1960, London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2010, p.81 (illus.)., p.90, p.174

    On loan to the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth from 1989-1995 and exhibited along side the permanent collection during this period
    Nangara: the australian aboriginal art exhibition from the Ebes collection, Stichting Sint-jan, Brugge, Belgium, March 9 - June 23, 1996, cat. no.16
    The Australian Aboriginal Art Exhibition, Hokkaido Asahikawa Museum of Art, Asahikawa, Japan, April 13 – May 27, 2001; Tochigi Prefectual Museum of Fine Arts, Utsunomiya, Japan, July 15 – September 2, 2001; Iwaki City Art Museum, Iwaki, Japan, November 10 - December 16, 2001; Shimonoseki City Art Museum, Shimonoseki, Japan, April 25 - June 2, 2002, cat. no.2
    Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia, 31 October 2003 - 26 January 2004; National Gallery of Victoria, Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square, Melbourne, Australia, 23 March - 3 May 2004, cat. no.2; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 14 May - 11 July 2004; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 7 August - 24 October 2004
    Dreamtime - Aboriginal Art from the Ebes Collection, Arken Museum of Modern Art, Ishoj, Copenhagen, Denmark, February 11 - August 13, 2006
    Remembering Forward Australian Aboriginal Painting since 1960, Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany, November 20, 2010 - March 20, 2011, cat. no.32

    Love Story, 1972 a tale of forbidden love is one of Tjapaltjarri's most significant Dreaming narratives. This highly important early painting marks the first time the artist painted this Dreaming and it is the second board he completed for Geoffrey Bardon and sold through the Stuart Art Centre in Alice Springs. The Stuart Art Centre's manager, Pat Hogan, mistakenly attributed the board to Clifford Leura, using the surname of Tjapaltjarri's brother Tim Leura, and incorrectly identified the subject matter as 'Water Story'.

    Significantly, the artist has shared much of the narrative through the iconography in this example which he later chose to conceal when returning to the theme in 1973. The Dreaming story is set at the sacred rockhole site of Ngarlu, for which the Tjungurrayi and Tjapaltjarri men are custodians.

    Love Story is the principle Dreaming of this site. The Tjungurrayi man, Liltipililti, seduces a Napangarti woman - a forbidden union - through the singing of Love Magic and spinning of hair on a spindle, depicted in the painting's top left quadrant. The foots prints descending to and from the centre beginning at the upper register, represent the Woman entering and departing the scene, and the orange pointed elliptical shape to the right of the central circle represents her pudenda as a representation of their congress. The designs at the top and bottom of the composition are associated with the sand drawings of the Napaltjarri women who visited the camp during the night. The three elliptical forms within the white concentric circles of the right-hand quadrant are the dance boards used by the women.

    This painting is the first in which Tjapaltjarri spurns figuration. Geoffrey Bardon encouraged 'The Painting Men' to use only their traditional visual language, and do away with any Western representations, and its seems likely that he encouraged Tjapaltjarri after seeing his first painting, the figurative Emu Coroborree Man, to focus accordingly. Visually, Love Story, 1972 is a remarkable painting in that the artist, while painting the design as seen from a bird's eye view, achieves a virtual three dimensional quality, with the hair spindle atop the pole appearing to project upwards, and the speckled flecking over a black ground at the centre, giving the illusion of the encounter happening at a place that is a gateway to another dimension.

    Another larger version of this story, Man's Love Story painted on canvas in 1978, became the first Western Desert painting to be acquired by one of Australia's major art galleries. When it was acquired by the Art Gallery of South Australia in 1980, it was hung within the display of Contemporary Australian Art.


    I can see Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri in my mind's eye as I admire his Love Story painting once again. He is comfortably sitting cross-legged in the artists' shed, dressed in stockman's clothes with his black stockman's hat beside him and his tousle of fine wavy hair falling forward, patiently waiting for the priming paint to dry before he begins the painting. His brother Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri is sitting nearby, having shortly before commenced a Possum Dreaming painting. They have a billy of warm sugar-sweet black tea between them, and at different comfortable places about the shed there are several other artists, all also sitting cross-legged. Their boards are either flat on the cement floor directly in front of them, or – as in Johnny Warangkula's case -, slightly tilted upwards on the "bench" of his thighs, one hand steadying the board and the other painting his country's Kalipinypa Rain Dreaming. Clifford has a drink direct from the billy, then replaces it so that his brother or anyone else of close kin relationship can have a drink when they are thirsty.

    After a preliminary testing with a finger, he places his art board on the cement directly in front of him. He has been thinking of his father's Love Story Dreaming, and the song runs silently out into his paint-brush. He dips it into the cut-down beer can of red acrylic paint and reaches out towards the centre of the board. Then he pauses for the briefest of moments, hitting the right note for the commencement of the Love song story of Ngarlu Rockhole in his mind, and it flows out onto the board as a small circle in the middle of the board. He completes three more concentric circles to create the image of the water of the rock-hole and continues to paint steadily for an hour, pausing for but a few minutes when he needs to select a different colour and carefully turn the board so that he can continue without smearing the work already completed. Every now-and-again an artist bursts into the song of his painting, and all other men join him in singing song-verses. Old Walter begins a Rain dreaming song and the rain verses are followed by Charlie Wutuma starting the Emu songs, then Kaapa leads in the Goanna dreaming verses before quietness again prevails. The artists' shed allows that, for in some respects it has become like a "men's business" cave.

    Most of the time they are a happily quiet group of artists, with a man occasionally putting his paint-brush down, standing and going to the toilet, or having a break to attend to family matters before returning. Anyone who leaves the shed invariably returns with a brief comment or two about local news, or an observation which causes laughter.
    A Crested bell-bird calls pan-pan-palong in the distance and Nosepeg leads the chuckling. Pan-pan-palong is a Dreaming bird of his grandmother's country. North of Wiyinpiri Rockholes he put on his head-dress and sang his sweet love-magic songs, trying to entice two sisters to become his wives. They were fearful of this handsome lover, but also almost drawn to him too. They fled but Pan-pan-palong followed, forever singing his songs of desire.

    Intense concentration follows and all is again quiet for a considerable time.

    Clifford now begins softly singing his father's very different Love story Dreaming, and Tim and the other men instantly join him in the singing. After they have sung the key verses Tim begins his Possum Dreaming songs, and Clifford and all others again instantly join in. Most of the men chuckle again at the end of the verses and make affirming comments. In their mind's eyes they have seen the big old Dreaming red-gum in the Napperby Creek which is the Possum Dreaming home. And all have envisaged the old "growler" possum "boss" fighting his rivals for women. Lover-men are everywhere!

    Clifford and Tim have another drink of luke-warm sweet tea, and Tim responds to a hand gesture by Kaapa and hands the billy to him before again focussing on his painting.

    By now Clifford's painting is three–quarters completed, and he has begun the yellow background dotting that represents the vegetation of the loamy soil that surrounds the rock-hole. He has used the traditional colours red, black, white and yellow, but also used a new colour, orange. On the right-hand side of the red concentric circles is a large arc, representing the virile ceremonial love-magic singer Liltipilitipiliti Tjungurrayi. In the Dreamtime he painted himself up so that he was, as Tim put it, "properly flash one." Clifford smiles and adds a comment about a flash head-dress too and Kaapa, who has just completed his painting and stood up, delights everyone by commencing the men's love-magic dance. He throws out a ribald comment, which sparks an immediate additional one from Uta Uta and soon the men are helpless with laughter.

    The old Tjungurrayi of the Dreaming has been spinning hair-string onto a spindle, rolling it rapidly on his thigh. It is an erotic image. He sings the spindle full of Love Magic, and continues singing irresistible Love Magic songs to a Napangati woman (a woman forbidden to Tjungurrayi men in actual relationships) whom he greatly desires until she appears - the foot-prints coming from the left. She tries to leave, but his singing draws her back, as is indicated by the looping line of footprints, and sits with her back to him (the small arcs). He continues singing and she cannot resist him. He moves about to take advantage of her (the large left hand arcs). She lies back, highly aroused, her vulva prominent (the small orange concentric ovate form). All social rules are forgotten as he lifts her to him, and they make passionate love, time and again.

    All other elements in the painting are complementary, with the white concentric circles indicating a range of love magic power in the country all about the rock-hole, and all ritually correct men being able to read in an instant the basic elements represented by the designs on the sacred boards and boomerangs. There are hidden men-only meanings in the painting, and there are at least three levels of interpretation. When Pat Hogan, the friendly middle-aged woman from Alice Springs, arrives to purchase the artists' paintings, she is given a very different, yet also true, disguised version. She concludes that it is a Water Story, with bush potatoes and two other kinds of bush tucker flourishing after rains have filled the rockhole.

    This painting is sold with the original Stuart Art Centre documentation
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