Tommy Watson | KOG Perspectives

The Kate Owen Gallery staff have had the pleasure and privilege to be surrounded by the art of Tommy Watson for the last couple of weeks during our stellar show Tommy Watson | Desert Legend. Here the KOG Crew share their insights, gush over their favourite pieces, and reflect on the legacy of this recently deceased master.

 A staff favourite

Like many indigenous artists Tommy Watson’s artworks are simply titled but refer to so much more than the title may suggest. ‘My Country’ (2013) is without a doubt one of the most unique Tommy Watson artworks I’ve seen. It captures everything; the physical veins of the landscape, vivid colours of earth, the sandhills, and the flora that sporadically trail and dot the land. It also manages to capture the intangible livid nature of the outback suggesting a forceful flow of energy.

In this unique artwork Tommy expresses his ‘country’ via an authoritive journey of chunky dots of fraught black and blue tonalities. The bright orange is arresting, vibrant against the darkness. The colours undulate around each other and dissolve into the painting, rendering the landscape pregnant with tension as though this is the nucleus of everything.

‘My Country’ can be interpreted as a tribute to mother nature, her harshness, overwhelming beauty and force. Showing the power and strength of the elements reflected in a physical state – the landscape from an aerial perspective.
Within the constraints of the linen Tommy has captured the raw energy of life.

Kirby Olave
Indigenous Art Consultant
Kate Owen Gallery

Tommy Watson’s fame

Tommy Watson was undeniably the most highly prized and collected artist in the Indigenous art movement for well over a decade. Watson’s prices reached dizzy heights of nearly a million dollars whilst painting and continue to blossom posthumously.
In 2006 Watson was selected for the Musee Qui du Branly in Paris, commissioned by Jacques Chirac – (then President of France) this was a milestone for the already established star of the world of modern art.

Watson’s highest auction record was reached in 2007 and stands at $240,000 including BP. The artwork titled ‘Waltitjatta’ (2006) measures 204 x 251cm – by no means a small work but in the grand scheme of things – and dwarfed by the prices reached through private treaty in the last 5 years.

Watson’s artworks are enigmatic, capturing dreaming’s that in his words, “can be traced back to the end of the ice age and beyond.” These artworks will vanish soon enough, like the melting ice at the end of the ice age.

A selection of Tommy’s largest and most important works have been collected and left to mature somewhat - hidden from the public and institutions alike. ‘Scarcity’ and ‘rarity’ are words often casually thrown around in context of a great artist’s works but in the case of Tommy Watson’s largest artworks, we are yet to see the full impact of a market that cannot quench their thirst fast enough.

Daniel Goldshaft
Senior indigenous art consultant
Kate Owen Gallery

A quiet moment with Tommy Watson

Tommy Watson | Desert Legend is on display in our third level collectors gallery, which perches on the corner of the major intersection of Victoria and Darling Road, in the old York Building in Rozelle. It’s a fabulous open space that’s just perfect for major exhibitions, and the sunlight floods the room throughout the day.

Whilst Kate Owen Gallery has had some major shows on display in this space, for me, this one has completely hypnotized me. Being in the presence of one Tommy Watson artwork is enthralling, so you can imagine what it must do to your senses to be completely enveloped by Tommy’s rhythmical paint and sensual depictions of Country. It is a wonderful feeling, and I am acutely aware it is a phenomenal  rarity to be graced with this each day I come to ‘work’.

I have actually found myself getting in to a bit of a new ‘morning routine’ since the Tommy Watson exhibition began - I’ve taken to having my morning coffee not at my desk, but upstairs in the top gallery space.  As I enter the space the hustle and bustle on the city street below completely washes away, and as the sunlight begins to saturate the space, the artworks begin to sing. This quiet moment with Tommy Watson’s artistic genius is something I cherish.

I encourage everyone to take a moment out of their busy lives to experience this exhibition !

Elizabeth Geyer
Media, Digital Marketing & Communications
Kate Owen Gallery

Museum Quality Artworks

It goes without saying that the paintings by Tommy Watson featured in our exhibition are sublime, many of them never exhibited before and a body of work that truly represents the depth of Tommy’s knowledge, respect for ‘Country’ and artistic skill.    
On a personal note, I found that talking with Ken McGregor who had a close relationship with Tommy, gave me a glimpse of the man, who in the tradition of the Aboriginal stockman, yet a traditional elder, found “voice on canvas” at a later age.
It would make perfect sense to me and be completely appropriate if some of the incredible works in the exhibition found their way to Australian Art Institutions where they could be shared with the public.   His work is already on display in the Musee du quai Branly in Paris where the great spiritual heritage of the Australian Indigenous people is celebrated and promoted, surely it’s time for Australia to follow suit …..  

Surrey Webb
Senior indigenous art consultant
Kate Owen Gallery

Tommy Watson | Desert Legend

Article: Exhibition Opening

Online Exhibition

Photo Gallery: Exhibition Opening

Related Videos

Article: Exhibition Opening

We titled our much anticipated Tommy Watson solo show ‘Desert Master’ for obvious reasons – as soon as you enter our top gallery space you are simply awestruck by the artistic genius of the late master. Last week art lovers, journalists, and collectors alike braved the miserable Sydney weather to attend the opening of Tommy Watson | Desert Master here at Kate Owen Gallery in Rozelle.

“Sydney is at last getting a serious show of the art of the late Tommy Yannima Watson” writes Jeremy Eccles, and attendees at the exhibition opening certainly did not leave wanting. Kate Owen Gallery put on a feast thanks to Wow Catering, and Ken McGregor (author of the authoritative artist monograph on Tommy Watson) gave a captivating speech on the life and art of Mr Watson. But it was the art that gathered us together that night, and it was the art that was the absolute standout. As Ken McGregor mentioned in his opening address “you’ve put on a monumental display of works, these are museum quality works”. 

The show has been a labour of love for Kate Owen Gallery’s Director, Mr Geoff Henderson for over 18 months and involved securing pieces from the vaults from some of Australia’s most esteemed fine art collectors. “This curation of masterpieces and museum quality works, including many previously unexhibited works, showcase the soaring talent of this recently deceased master,” explains Mr Henderson, “never before have so many of Watson’s seminal works been exhibited in the one space”. One seminal work that has to be seen to be believed is the groundbreaking 2013 piece featured in the Australian newspaper. Standing at just less than 5 meters long it has the power to envelop you in its rhythmical dot work and sensual tones of orange.

Also on display were pieces that demonstrated his intuitive and masterful use of colour and form.  Even artworks such as Anumarapiti - TWAHF0004 which does not command the same wall space as other grand pieces in the show, still holds its own as an exquisite example of Watsons work. Compositionally there is a masterful sense of balance and a surprising selection of colours sit harmoniously and at ease on the canvas. 

As formalities concluded for the night, Geoff Henderson just had one more thing he wanted to say;

“As someone who deals with Indigenous art all the time, it’s moments like this where it’s time to stop and say ‘thank you’ first and foremost to the artist that made this possible…Thank you, Tommy.”

Mr Watson was alive when planning for the exhibition begun, but unfortunately the Desert Master passed away before ever seeing the completed exhibition. It is bitter sweet that he never got to see the celebration and appreciation of his artistic genius on display all around at the exhibition opening, but something tells me he had captured everything he wanted to convey in these monumental paintings he so generously left behind for us.

Tommy Watson | Desert Master will be on display at Kate Own Gallery until 11 November. Gallery is open 10-6 every day.

Can’t make it to the gallery? You can view the online exhibition here. If you would like any further information about the artworks on display, please don’t hesitate to contact the gallery. You can also request an exhibition catalogue here.


Photo Gallery of Exhibition Opening - Click Here!


Related Videos

Gems from the Stockroom | 26 august - 17 september

Our Art Consultants have really outdone themselves with these hand-picked ‘gems’ from our stockroom. With 2,0+ artworks to choose from, plus some gorgeous new arrivals that just had to be included, it isn't surprising. You will be dazzled by the exquisite selection on offer, and amazed at how the vast array of different styles sit extremely well in the one space. A visual feast that shouldn't leave you wanting more but will almost certainly leave you wanting a piece of your very own.

It is interesting to know that it isn't the same artist, similar style or even region that bring these pieces together for exhibition. What does bring these art works together for display are that they are all personal favourites that simply make our Art Consultant's say "wow, I just love that piece!" While they are contrasting, they simply look absolutely beautiful together.

Some new and exclusive pieces by Helen McCarthy Tyalmuty are quite likely to catch your eye. To be honest, you certainly would not want to miss them on display. Helen is an award winning indigenous artist. To add to the spectacular colour and intricacy of her work, Helen often provides a beautiful meaning and story that goes with her pieces. Her most recent additions to the gallery and this exhibition are no different. These stories include ancient wisdom and customs through to her own personal life stories and that of her close family. Read some more of Helen's stories.

This piece is particularly impressive and is called 'Wadjigan People'. Recently, when shared on social media, fellow artist Tarisse King reached out to say of this piece; "Helen u can do no wrong!"... Quite the compliment!

Helen's story for this art work:

"Wadjigan People. Our country is Bulgul. Our language is Batjamal.

This painting depicts our ancestors and billabongs and waterways where they hunted for survival.

The old people looked after our country. They still say don't be greedy. Only get enough for family and always share.

Ochre stones are for ceremony - body painting. Also found are small stones used to sing someone to love you.

This story is depicted in green because food and freshwater is always plentiful. Small black and red circles are the different Wadjigan tribes that walked before us.

White circles up top are the white stones used to sing someone to you"

Other artist featured in this exhibition include:

Gloria Petyarre

"Bush Medicine" by Gloria Petyarre H200 x W120 (GPEG0544)
Tommy Watson

'Wati Kutjara' by Tommy Watson H182 x W243 (AGTW0303121984)

Minnie Pwerle

'Awelye Atnwengerrp' by Minnie Pwerle (MPWG0009)

To see these pieces, and many more, we strongly suggest you do not miss the 'Gems of the Stockroom' exhibition at Kate Owen Gallery. If you can't make it in to the gallery thankfully you can also view the exhibition online.

way out west | 24 June - 16 July

Australia’s desert landscapes, regarded as the ‘outback’ of Australia, have long been a great inspiration for artists. But it is the artists of the Western Desert, way out west from Alice Springs, that have taken the world by storm with their powerful and unique art; designs and images expressing their intimate connection to their Country and the Tjukurrpa.


The exhibition has a beautiful balance of works with strong iconography and incredible amount of mythological detail, as well as works that are extremely bold and graphic, such as esteemed artist Warlimpirringa Tjapaltjarri.


Warlimpirrnga paints in two main styles, using geometric shapes to represent the Tingari story, or lines interspersed with dotting for his dreaming concerning the sacred site of Lake Mackay of which he is the custodian. Warlimpirrnga employs a dotting technique shared with other Pintupi artists such as his brothers, Thomas and Walala, and with George Ward Tjungurrayi, artists also featured in the show. 

Artworks by the great Tommy Watson command your attention when first entering the third level collectors' gallery

While artworks by Gracie Ward Napaltjarri invite you to take an intimate moment; to be amazed by the intuitive and authoritative expression of the intricacies of Country.

Some artworks may take visitors by surprise, such as Katjara Butler's dynamic and colourful pieces,

but we are certain this exhibition will leave visitors with a sense of wonder, and revel in the artistic genius of Australia's great artists from the Western Desert. 

Can't visit the gallery? You can view the online exhibition here.