Yannima Tommy Watson

Born circa 1935 at Anamaraptji, west of Irrunytju, WA. Language group: Pitjantjatjara. In the last six years, Tommy Watson has come to prominence in the primary and secondary markets, and is regarded by many as the greatest living Australian Indigenous artist. Tommy was raised in a traditional nomadic lifestyle before contact with Western culture. Prior to commencing his painting career, Tommy supported himself in variety of jobs, including working as a stockman, a labourer and a road builder. In 2001, in a small corrugated shed at Irrunytju, Tommy began painting by first learning how to use acrylic paint, paint brushes and working on canvas. In such a short time, Tommy progressed from basic Western art practice skills to becoming a master of paint and colour. Tommy’s paintings do not present the same imagery as his contemporaries; rather, he chooses a form of abstraction to pictorialise his sacred stories from both his mother’s and his grandfather’s country. Mastering the use of colour and composition, Tommy’s abstractions have been likened to the works of great modernist artists such as Kandinsky, Matisse and Rothko.
His use of colour is paramount in relating the feeling of his country – it is an emotive response, with Tommy often singing while he paints his stories; the result being works of great vibrancy, individuality and immense visual power. Tommy has only produced limited numbers of large scale paintings, which are keenly sought. This controlled output combined with his extraordinary ability has seen near stratospheric prices achieved for his works in such a short time span. Holding the record at auction for a living Indigenous artist of $240,000 and underpinned by three further results in excess of $90,000, Tommy’s paintings are already out of reach for many in the market. Large scale works new to market are usually in excess of $80,000, yet six years ago works of a similar nature were available for under $10,000. A finalist of the Telstra Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards in 2002, 2003 & 2008 and held in all major public collections in Australia, plus a permanent presence at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris, Tommy Watson’s name is mentioned in the same breath as the iconic artists of the Indigenous movement – Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Rover Thomas.Mastering the use of colour and composition, Tommy’s abstractions have been likened to the works of great modernist artists such as Kandinsky, Matisse and Rothko.

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