It was only about a decade ago that Tommy Watson, already an old man, first turned his hand to art. His career took off at once.
His works were eagerly sought by collectors, breaking records at auction and establishing him as one of the nation’s finest Aboriginal artists. But now, close to 80 years old, Watson feels he’s had enough.
“I’m tired of it,” he said. “I’ve done it a few times and I’m getting old.”
Watson has decided that his latest exhibition, which opened at Sydney’s Agathon Galleries on Saturday night, will be his last. He determined the title of the show several months ago: Kutju Wara (The Last One). The 13 works hanging on the walls hark back to his early style of painting. But Watson, now based in Alice Springs, said he did not plan to do any more major works.
“I want to leave it,” he said. “I’ve aged, I’m tired. I’m an old man.”
Watson’s work is held in collections across Australia, including the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Gallery of NSW, as well as at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris. In May 2007, his painting Waltitjatta sold at auction for $240,000, a record price for a living Aboriginal artist.
But it’s his association with Agathon Galleries owner John Ioannou that has made some in the fractious Aboriginal art sector uncomfortable.
Ioannou is the “preferred client” at the Irrunytju art centre in the central Australian community of Wingellina. Through Irrunytju, Watson and other artists have worked closely — and exclusively — with Ioannou.