On the world stage: Judy Watson - Art Collector

Issue 59, January - March 2012

This profile appeared in the On the world stage feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2012.

In February and March 2012 Judy Watson’s Waterline exhibition will be at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne, after an earlier showing at the Australian Embassy in Washington – the first time the artist has exhibited in the United States. “Brendan Wall, the director of cultural relations invited me to show there,” she explains. “He won a bottle of champagne in 1995 when he bet on me to get the Moët & Chandon Fellowship. Apparently he’s followed my career ever since.”

The exhibition offered useful exposure. “It was a serious audience. A lot of curators came through. It was fabulous having an exhibition in Washington at this time [September to November 2011] because of my interest in enslaved people in the States and because it coincided with the exhibition of African American art 30 Americans at the Corcoran Gallery.”

Watson is interested in parallels between slavery in the United States and the experiences of Aboriginal workers on stations in Queensland. There is a political edge to her work that may not always be immediately evident and her 10 new paintings weren’t exactly a safe choice for the embassy. All her work alludes to the sacred significance of the land, particularly her grandmother’s country near Mt Isa, but it also addresses the ecological damage perpetrated since colonisation and some of the paintings in this new series refer to Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers.

“I was reacting to what’s happening here,” she says of the paintings that went to Washington. They also reflect the events of Cyclone Yasi and the 2011 floods in Brisbane, disasters that affected many people she knows.

She was artist-in-residence at the University of Virginia, and began a series of prints that will be exhibited at the University’s Kluge-Ruhe collection the only US museum dedicated to Australian Aboriginal art. The prints explore the complex identity and history of Thomas Jefferson, who founded the University of Virginia. The series is called Experimental Beds, a title that simultaneously evokes his work as a horticulturalist and his relationship with the slave Sally Hemmings, with whom he is believed to have fathered children.

Timothy Morrell

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