Yannima Tommy Watson
Bill Whiskey Tjapaltjarri
There was something otherworldly about Yannima Tommy Watson and Bill Whiskey Tjapaltjarri. The way they looked to the distance—dreaming, seemingly disconnected from those hovering around but still knowing exactly what was going on. They held little regard for the world outside their country. Their understanding of law and duty to its continuance was paramount to their existence. The stories—Tjukurrpa—described in the intricate, yet, distinctively different styles of the two artists, spoke of the way things were and should be.
Both men had immense and innate powers, born from their standing in the desert as lawmen and Ngangkari—or healers as they were known since before the dawn of time. They had a depth of understanding about the desert and how to look after it—the animals, the water, and the land itself. Indeed, their knowledge meant survival within their harsh, dry reality.
Bill and Tommy hailed from the Pitjantjara lands—southwest of Uluru, somewhere around the tri-border that now intersects their lands. They had walked the country—lived the nomadic life with their families. It’s not known if they had contact in those days—the vast area was hardly overpopulated. Theirs was a pure, yet, tough existence for decades before they came into the desert settlements. It was the dawn of the desert painting movement that would ultimately capture the world’s imagination. Although they watched the early boards being painted, they were not moved to make paintings themselves until they had finished their journeys.
Both Bill and Tommy came to painting late in life. From the first moment the paint touched the canvas, the magic of their imagery flowed out. It was as though their composition and methodology had been distilled over decades of ceremony and song. It is this rich vein of visual poetry that has captured the imagination of collectors, galleries and institutions the world over. For these two old men (who spoke in their own language) to play an integral role in changing the perception of the land in which we live, is simply remarkable.
At their core, the paintings created are for the old men’s future ancestors—private conversations that we participate in, through the beauty of their unique and individual aesthetic genius.
VIEW 7min FILM ABOUT BILL WHISKEY “THAT OLD MAN” documenting his return to country
(Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this film contains images, voices, or names of deceased persons.)
VIEW ARTICLE By Ralph Hobbs — Remembering Bill Whiskey Tjapaltjarri, VAULT Issue 31 August - October 2020, p. 85 – 87
Your monthly art news on the run plus invitations to Nanda\Hobbs exhibitions and events