Judy Watson: Pulse of the earth


Judy Watson’s work including drawing, printmaking, painting and sculpture all reference an Indigenous connection to land and history. Her canvases are not paintings in the classical traditions of European art, they remain unstretched when exhibited, usually pinned to the wall as is sacred ground beating heart (illustrated). One of Watson’s bronze sculptures — tow row (illustrated) — is permanently installed at the entrance to the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA).

Born at Mundubbera, west of Maryborough, in south-east Queensland, the spirit and substance of her work is sourced in the homeland of her grandmother and great grandmother, a descendant of the Waanyi people of north-west Queensland.

sacred ground beating heart

Through paint and pigment, Watson offers evidence of intimate encounters with the heat, air, moisture and pulse of the earth — the geographical emblems of her heartland. These emblems are linked with Australian Aboriginal totemic beings or culture heroes, who metamorphosed into landscape features, such as hills and rocks, and who continue to manifest their presence in meteorological or astral phenomena.

The unstretched canvas has been stained by layers of wet and dry pigment, creating a velvety, sensuous surface, which is then marked by distinct touches of colour. The imagery suggests an aerial perspective of parched land, a depiction of distant homelands or a material translation of an emotional state.

Judy Watson ‘sacred ground beating heart’ 1989

Judy Watson, Waanyi people, Australia b.1959 / sacred ground beating heart 1989 / Natural pigments and pastel on canvas / 215 x 190cm / Purchased 1990. The 1990 Moët & Chandon Art Acquisition Fund / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Judy Watson/Copyright Agency

Watch | Judy Watson discusses ‘sacred ground beating heart’

Judy Watson ‘tow row’ 2016

In tow row 2016, Judy Watson has responded to the GOMA site close to the Brisbane River. Referencing woven nets used by Aboriginal people of the area she acknowledges the traditional owners of the site and their everyday fishing activities on the river and local saltwater waterways. Watch our documentary as the artist discusses her inspiration for the bronze sculpture.

Watch | Judy Watson introduces ‘tow row’ 2016

Judy Watson, Waanyi people, Australia b.1959 / tow row 2016 / Bronze / Commissioned 2016 to mark the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art. This project has been realised with generous support from the Queensland Government, the Neilson Foundation and Cathryn Mittelheuser AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Judy Watson/Copyright Agency

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution First Australians make to the art and culture of this country. It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name or reproduce photographs of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.