Life:              1935 -2017
Language:    Pitjantjatara
Country:       Irrunytju, WA


Tommy Yannima Watson was a senior Pitjantjatara artist, born circa 1935 in desert country west of Irrunytju, or Wingellina, in Western Australia. Tommy was a law man of Karima skin group, and his traditional names of Yannima and Pikarli relate to specific sites near his birthplace at Anumarapiti, west of Irrunytju.

Tommy’s parents died when he was young, so he was adopted by Nicodemus Watson, his father’s first cousin. Tommy went to live at Ernabella Mission, and took the surname Watson in addition to his Aboriginal birth name, thus becoming Tommy Yannima Pikarli Watson.

Tommy first met white people at Ernabella Mission in the 1940s, then moved to a life in the bush until adult years when he worked as a stockman and labourer on cattle stations.During these years in the bush, he learned the skills he needed to live off and nuture the land and it was during this time his love of Country and his deep knowledge was ingrained.   

He began painting at Irrunytju art centre with a small group of artists who set up there in 2001. His career began with paintings inspired by his ancient Dreamings. A powerful statement of title to land, is distinguished by a stunning colourful abstraction where the celebration of country and Tommy's relation to it is generated using bright layers of thickly applied acrylic paint. These are densely dotted in painterly or linear application. His signature colours are the deep rich tones of red, burgundy, gold and magenta pink, with paler highlights in yellow or white.  Importantly, no iconographic form or colour that might give insight into ritual knowledge is used. Instead, the titles of his paintings describe place names or encounters of personal and private significance.

Tommy Yannima Watson became quickly recognised for his powerful use of colour and energetic movement in his paintings, which were exhibited in Alice Springs at Desert Mob and in Darwin at the Telstra NATSIAA Art Awards. His work became highly collectable and his reputation continued to strengthen. In 2006 he was among eight Aboriginal artists whose work was integrated into the Musee du quai Branly building in Paris.

Tommy passed away in Alice Springs in November 2017.

 Important Collections

  • National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
  • National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
  • Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
  • Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
  • Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
  • Musee du Quai Branly, Paris
  • Laverty Collection
  • Stokes Collection
  • Corrigan Collection

Return to Tommy's art.