Yannima Pikarli Tommy Watson was a senior Pitjantjatjara elder and Law Man of the Karimara skin group, and one of Australia’s greatest Aboriginal artists.
He was born c.1935, and was given two names, Yannima and Pikarli. Both names are specific sites near where he was born. Pikarli is a sacred flat rock and the name Yannima, according to Tommy, is a place not too far from Anumarrapirti, which is approximately 75 kilometres west of the small community of Irrunytju (also known as Wingellina). Irrunytju is situated in Western Australia near the tri-state border of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory and is one of the country’s most arid and unforgiving regions. While the landscape is visually beautiful, its climate is harsh — with chilling winter winds and extremely high summer temperatures.
Watson hunted and gathered with his family and was raised on the vast Pitjantjatjara lands, they travelled between Piltardi and other important rock holes, through the Petermann, Tomkinson, and Rawlinson Ranges and through the Bloods and Walter James Ranges. When the landscape was dry with drought, the family would occasionally visit the Hermannsburg Mission and Areyonga where they were given food rations. Living the traditional nomadic way of life Watson was schooled in traditional culture. It became intrinsic to his soul, and he never forgot the lessons of the elders.
Tommy Watson met Albert Namatjira and the early Papunya Tula artists but only began painting in 2001, he was a founding member of the Irrunytiju Arts Centre at Wingellina, Western Australia, approximately 720km south-west of Alice Springs.
His paintings have been exhibited around the world. Within Australia, Tommy is represented in numerous significant public and private collections, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, National Gallery of Victoria, the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of South Australia, and the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Bond University on the Gold Coast also has an extensive collection of important works.
In 2005 Watson’s painting Wipu Rockhole was scaled up and reproduced on stainless steel tiles which now adorn the administration office ceiling on the fifth floor of the University Building at the Musée du quai Branly in Paris. This commission assisted in establishing his reputation as one of a handful of internationally acclaimed Aboriginal artists.
Tommy Watsons’s estate is managed by Jorna Newberry who Tommy treated as a daughter