Yannima Pikarli Tommy Watson is one of the giants of Australian contemporary art.
He rises beyond descriptions such as Indigenous, Traditional and Modern.
His work transcends any of the myraid of adjectives that most critics serve up.
Tommy is simply Tommy. He paints with an explosive unparallel colour palette.
He was born around 1935 in Western Australia, near the
junction of the border with the Northern Territory and South Australia and is a senior
Pitjantjatara elder. His given names of Yannima and Pikarli relate to specific sites near
Anumarapiti, located 75 Kilometers West of the small community of Irrunytju.
His mother died during his infancy and his father also tragically died when Tommy was about
eight years old. He subsequently went to live with his uncle who then
sadly died two years later. Following this series of unfortunate deaths He was then adopted
by Nicodemus Watson, his father's first cousin.
He then went to live at Ernabella Mission, and decided to
take the surname Watson in addition to his Aboriginal birth name thus becoming Tommy Yannima
Nicodemus Watson was a strong father figure, and tought young Tommy
the traditional skills of hunting and gathering necessary for survival
in the harsh Australian desert. He learnt the traditional skills of hunting, toolmaking,
weapons making, and how to find water. Such skills that are essential for survival in
such a harsh environment.
In this old country, under the guidance of Nicodemus Watson,
Tommy gained a deep understanding of the environment and its
relationship to his own ancestral stories. To the Aboriginal peoples of Australia
these ancestral stories are collectively known as Tjukurrpa.
Tommy was sent to school at the Ernabella Mission which opened in 1940.
He was not at Ernabella for long before he was taken back to his community to be initiated.
His upbringing is similar to that of many Indigenous people born in that era.
He lived a traditional nomadic existence, and worked as a stockman and labourer.
During his time working at Papunya he met the school teacher Geoffrey Bardon who was
instrumental in developing the western desert art movement.
He began painting in 2001, at the Irrunytju community art centre in 2001.
Soon recognized as a leading light in the Aboriginal Art movement, he is held in great
esteem by art collectors and art lovers globally.
Watson keeps the sacred meanings of his paintings private. He doesn't explain their
spiritual meaning. His paintings can be described in abstract expressionist.
The colours and abstract shapes are stunningly beautiful.