Tommy Watson Yannima was a senior Pitjantjatjara elder from the Karimara skin group, born around 1935 at Anamarapiti, just west of the present day community of Irrunytju in Western Australia. He passed away in 2017 in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
As a young man Watson learned the bush skills of hunting and gathering, living off the land around Ernabella and further to the Petersham Ranges. In these years his knowledge of the country was deeply embedded with the spiritual and physical meanings of the land. During his twenties, he worked as a stockman in the deserts around Mount Ebenezer, 200 kilometers east of Uluru and then at Yuendumu. He later returned to his homeland at Irrunytju to live a traditional life governed by ceremony and his family’s connection with the land. Here he learned about the Tjukurpa, the creation period, or Dreamtime, in which ancestral beings created the world as we know it. In these stories lie the basis for the religion, law and moral systems of the Australian Aboriginals.
Tommy Watson began his career as an artist quite late in his life, joining the Irrunytju Arts group only in 2002. Soon after exhibiting at the Desert Mob show at Alice Springs later that year, he developed a national and international reputation for his incandescent paintings. Tommy Watson maintained strong links with his traditional lands and sacred sites his whole life. He painted ancestral stories from both his mother’s country south west of Warakurna and his grandfather’s country.
Watson's work has received critical acclaim, both within Australia and internationally, with art critics drawing parallels between Watson and Western Abstract painters such as Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Kasimir Malevich, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. John MacDonald wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that Watson "is a master of invention and arguably the outstanding painter of the Western Desert", going on to compare his use of colour to Henri Matisse.
Artwork and technique
Like Emily Kame Kngwarrreye, Tommy Watson maintains the secrecy of the sacred meanings of his paintings. His paintings might be described in abstract expressionist terms as exploiting a virtual 'geography of sensation’. The colors and abstract shapes are stunningly beautiful. Common subjects in his artworks are rockholes, stream beds and hills or mountains surrounded by waves of light. Many of his paintings resonate light waves or explosions. They are painted in a traditional dotting style.
2021 ‘Voyage across Aboriginal Australia | Founders' Favourites, Fondation Burkhardt-Felder Arts et Culture, La Grange, Motiers, Switzerland
2018 EXPO Chicago, SmithDavidson Gallery, Chicago, USA
2016 'Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia', Hardvard Art Museums, USA
2015 ‘Signs and Traces. Contemporary Aboriginal Art’, Zamek Culture Centre, Poznan, Poland
2010 ‘Desert Country’, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
2009-2010 ‘Emerging Elders – honouring senior Indigenous artists’, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia
2009 ‘Kutu Wara (The Last One)’, Solo Exhibition, Agathon Galleries, Sydney, Australia
2009 ‘New Works: South Western Desert Art of Australia’, Agathon Galleries, Sydney, Australia
2009 Nganampa Tjukurpa: South Western Desert Art of Australia’, Agathon Galleries Sydney
2009 Agathon Galleries Sydney, Melbourne
2008 Agathon Galleries Sydney, Melbourne
2008 25th Telstra NATSIAA, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, Australia
2007 Permanent Exhibition Musée du quai Branly, Paris, France
2007 ‘One Sun, One Moon’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
2007 ‘Tommy Watson, Solo Exhibition’, Agathon Galleries, Sydney, Australia
2007 ‘Senior Irrunytju Artists', Agathon Galleries, Melbourne, Australia
2007 ‘Irrunytju Fundraiser Exhibition’, Agathon Galleries, Sydney, Australia
2006 ‘Tommy Watson, Solo Exhibition’, Agathon Galleries, Melbourne, Australia
2006 ‘Landmarks’, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
2006 Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, France
2005 'Tommy Watson, Solo Exhibition’, Agathon Galleries, Sydney, Australia
2005 Cairns Regional Art Gallery, Cairns, Australia
2005 Wollongong City Art Gallery, Wollongong, Australia
2005 Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) Gallery, Melbourne, Australia
2004 ‘Colour Power: Aboriginal Art post 1984’, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
2004 NATSIAA – Celebrating 20 Years, National Archives of Australia, Canberra, Australia
2004 Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, Adelaide, Australia
2003 20th Telstra NATSIAA, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, Australia
2003 The Desert Mob Show, Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, Australia
2002 19th Telstra NATSIAA, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, Australia
2002 The Desert Mob Show, Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, Australia
1984 National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
Born in Anamarapiti in 1935
Died in *unknown* on December 20th, 2017