Artist unknown, possibly Clifford Possum TJAPALTJARRI
synthetic polymer paints on beanwood
c. 1970 - 72
Gift of an anonymous donor 1975
This unique sculpture, featuring a snake lying upon a Coolamon shaped surface, was possibly created by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. This snake, known as an antwerrkenh (black headed python) is a well-known for its cultural associations with the Napperby Station/ Lake Lewis region of the Northern Territory, where Possum spent time as a stockman.
Shaped from a single section of wood, the level of sophistication of the sculpture indicates it was made by an experienced carver. Few similar examples exist from the early 1970s, however, a comparison with other works provides enough evidence for us to propose that Possum created this item. The use of synthetic paint on suggests that the creation of this object may have coincided with the emergence of painting in Papunya in central Australia during the early 1970s, where Possum lived intermittently.
Prior to commencing his much celebrated career as a painter, Possum often carved snakes and goannas while he worked as a stockman in the cattle industry, which had earlier firmly established itself on his ancestral lands. This complex carving was shaped from the trunk of an ininti tree (Erythrina vespertilio), which typically grows in abundance along creek beds in central Australia. This wood is ideal for carving due to its light weight and strength, which allowed it to be safely transported by stockman, who gradually worked on pieces as they travelled.
Born in 1932 in a creek bed in Anmatyerr country, 130 miles northwest of Alice Springs, Possum emerged in the 1970s as one of the most celebrated Aboriginal artists of his generation. When he joined a gathering of ‘painting men’ in Papunya in early 1972, he projected his skill as a carver into his paintings. As the interest in Aboriginal art increased, so too did his skill as a painter. By the end of the 1970s, Possum settled into his outstation at Mbungera and began work on a series of the monumental ‘maps’ of country that would bring into focus his unique abilities as both artist and sculptor.