The successful, if gloomy, Netflix TV series, ‘After Life’ in which the English actor Ricky Gervais plays a widowed man in a state of aggressively deep depression, chose “ for no obvious reason “ a near copy of an early painting by Pintupi artist, Warlimpirrgna Tjapaltjarri to hang behind Gervais as he sits on his couch ruminating upon the world. Alert minds in Australia “ at Papunya Tula Artists, at the Copyright Agency, at the Indigenous Art Code, and, above all at the Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd which represents PTA artists – ignored the nihilism but saw a potential copyright breach.
Their researches discovered that Gervais’s production company, Derek Productions had actually obtained a work painted more than 20 years earlier by a Devon woman, Timna Woollard, in the style of Warlimpirrgna and not considered the copyright implications of it. Ms Woollard, who has since apologised for the rip-off and removed the work from her website was also unaware that, in the Aboriginal world, no woman would be allowed to paint such a masculine story, as Punata Stockman, chairperson of the related Papunya Tjupi art centre told the ABC when the news first broke in March.
Derek Productions accepted its fault but was clearly reluctant to change the painting that will go on to appear in a second series of ‘After Life’ too radically. So a compromise was worked out whereby the similar image of a real Warlimpirrgna which is in the National Gallery of Victoria collection was supplied for use. It’s a ‘Tingarri Dreaming’ from 1988. A fee has been paid to the artist and there will be ongoing payments for future appearances by the artwork.
Warlimpirrgna has come a long way since 1988. This year his op-art desert Dreamscapes featured in the Steve Martin Collection show which leading dealer Gagosian showed in New York and Los Angeles.