Untitled (Possum Dreaming) synthetic polymer paint on cardboard 38 x 51cm
PROVENANCE: Painted at Papunya in early 1972 Private collection Mossgreen, Fine and Early Aboriginal and Oceanic Art, Sydney, 31 August 2009, lot 10 Ebes Collection, Melbourne
Untitled (Possum Dreaming), c. 1972 is one of the earliest paintings on board attributed to Clifford Possum. According to Vivien Johnson the first painting made by the artist at Papunya for Geoffrey Bardon, the catalyst of the revolutionary painting movement, was Emu Corroboree Man in February 1972 (Johnson, V., Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia, 2003, pp. 61, 218-9). The latter painting is also illustrated in Bardon, G. and J. Bardon, Papunya, A Place Made After the Story: The Beginnings of the Western Desert Painting Movement, Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, 2004, p.384, painting 340, where Bardon himself dates the work to later in the year, June or July. Nonetheless, Untitled (Possum Dreaming), c.1972, appears to be one of series of paintings where the artist depicts a ceremonial scene in an experimental fashion, combining figurative renditions of form commonly associated with Western art, with which he was acquainted, with the conventional traditional symbolism of desert art. The other paintings in the series include Untitled (Ceremony), c.1971, (Sotheby's, 26-27 July 2004, lot 97) and Untitled (Emu Corroboree), 1972 (Sotheby's Australia, 18 October 2011, lot 53).
In the early years of the Papunya acrylic painting movement, it was not uncommon for artists to depict ceremonies and ritual objects in a naturalistic, figurative fashion. As they became increasingly aware of the new but uninitiated audience for their art, the painters developed a number of pictorial strategies drawn from the canon of traditional desert iconography to render their paintings suitable for the public without impinging on the cultural integrity of their art.
Untitled (Possum Dreaming), c.1972, bears several hallmarks of these early paintings by Clifford Possum, including the proto-symmetrical composition, a chromatic range that features yellow and orange, and the sections of parallel lines that form the ground of the painting. The handling of the paint and the treatment of the figures in Untitled (Possum Dreaming), c.1972, however, are more vigorous than in most of the artist's other paintings of ceremonial scenes executed during this period, and align it more closely to Untitled (Ceremony), c.1971. The two paintings have a number of other features in common: the lateral bands of white dots; the application of red, black and white dots to define the travelling line of the ground painting; the application of the dotted roundels; and the plethora of ritual objects. The number and type of common features suggest that the two paintings may have been created at or about the same time.