Yannima Tommy Watson

Yannima Tommy Watson

Tommy Yannima Watson (c 1935-2017) was a major Pitjantjatara artist, born 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 Watson’s parents and uncle 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.

As a young man Tommy learned the bush skills of hunting and gathering, living off the land around Ernabella, the Musgrave Ranges and further to the Petersham Ranges. In these years his knowledge of the country was deeply embedded with both the physical and spiritual meanings of the land.

Tommy Watson 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.

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.

Yannima Tommy Watson became quickly recognised for his powerful use of colour and energetic canvases, 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.

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 2003 Watson was one of eight Indigenous artists, alongside Paddy Bedford, John Mawurndjul, Ningura Napurrula, Judy Watson and Gulumbu Yunupingu, who collaborated on a commission to provide works that decorate the Musée du Quai Branly’s Paris four buildings completed in 2006.

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.

In early 2013, Watson moved to live with family in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. Following an improvement in his health he resumed painting, producing large works up to five meters long. Until the end of his career Tommy was selling large canvases and one selling for over $800,000 in 2013.

In 2014, a major work of 160 x 485 cm by Tommy Watson was exhibited at The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF), one of the world’s most prestigious art fairs. Watson’s work was also on display as part of a group exhibition of First Contact Western Desert Masters also featuring Naata Nungurrayi, Esther Giles Nampitjinpa, and George Hairbrush Tjungurrayi in Sydney in June–July 2014.


  • 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


Anumarapiti - 2015 - BBB0333
Yannima Tommy Watson
  • $2,980.00
Pukara - 2015 - BBB0335
Yannima Tommy Watson
  • $2,980.00
Wankamalalt Kulpi - 2015 - BBB0334
Yannima Tommy Watson
  • $2,980.00
Wipu - 2015 - BBB0336
Yannima Tommy Watson
  • $3,980.00