HappeningsCLT recently chatted with Jason Watson. Jason was the first Wesley Mancini Artist-in-Residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation, a residency focused on supporting artists addressing issues of the LGBTQ community. If you missed the opportunity to see Jason’s work while he was at the McColl Center, you are in luck! There are several opportunities to see his work around North Carolina this Fall. In Raleigh, Jason’s work will be part of a group show at the North Carolina Museum of Art, Line, Touch, Trace. The exhibition opened August 30 and will be on view through March 8, 2015. Jason will also be part of a group show entitled Following Threads: Fiber Art and Drawing at the Greenhill in Greensboro opening September 19. And if you just can’t make it out of Charlotte, be sure to check out Jason’s large mixed media drawing (and related video) currently on view at the Mint Museum Uptown.
HCLT: Describe yourself in three words.
JW: Earnest (as in Oscar’s Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest); Inquisitive; and Lime Green! I always paint a wall or a door in my studio space lime green; it is very conducive to a positive work environment.
HCLT: Tell us about your current body of work.
JW: My work always starts with drawing. Drawing from observation is my personal translation of the physical world into meaningful images. I draw and paint to investigate and manipulate structures, spaces, and surfaces; to play with how meaning attaches to visual ideas or abandons those ideas through the creative process.
I am particularly interested in how certain things I encounter, particularly faces, bodies, and manmade objects, both reveal and obscure private histories when I draw them. People and the things they use and value or casually discard (furniture, clothing, decorative collectibles, toys, kitchen utensils…) are my favorite subjects for painting, drawing, and collage. They intrigue me with both their potential to tell specific stories, often through the nuance of gesture or marks of use, and to keep the details of those stories forever hidden. For this reason, I am particularly drawn to two contradictory sources for inspiration and subject matter: thrift stores and museum collections. I am fascinated by the infinite possibilities of individual triumph or folly that could place an object or a body in one of these environments.
I have visited museums and thrift stores around the world to seek out new image material for my work. In the past several years I have sketched and documented potential subjects in Germany, Italy, Mexico, and South Africa. My process for making new work often begins with the physical displacement of travel, which I find both disorienting and visually exhilarating. I am increasingly interested in the “notional” aspect of the encounters I have with objects, faces, and bodies while on the move; the chance desires or momentary whims that encourage the visual study of one subject over another at any given place and time. Through sketching on site and contemplation, questions I have about the possible histories of people and their objects develop into a specific visual language on the page: scrawling lines and passages of pattern, collage, and text that float and tangle around the things I depict. These visual ideas are then worked out in larger, more layered compositions once I return to my studio.
HCLT: Who or what inspires your work?
JW: In a just a few word: strangers, acquaintances, intimate friends and their various obsessions. I want to know what is going on inside other people’s heads: what motivates them to do the things they do as they travel through the waves and troughs of contemporary life. I am always speculating on other people’s thought processes and the mental order of operations that leads them from point A to point B. I like to listen in on strangers’ conversations in coffee shops, read the backs of postcards I find in thrift stores, and people watch at the mall. I think this interest in individual mental habit and motivation as subject matter is why I am so obsessed with the human head in my work. It serves as a vessel for the ego and the id, the enlightened soul and the darkest of desires. I study people’s faces for hints at their personal histories. I think this is also why I am drawn to found objects in my work; they too can be read as subconscious records of an individual’s time on this planet and the choices they made during that journey. For me, the things people carry with them as they go along (clothing and shoes, pocket watches and wallets…) seem to retain an essence of their former thought process. When I browse through thrift stores looking for material to use in my work, I am always drawn to everyday objects that are scuffed or marred or broken; things that show the marks of specific use. A day spent combing through thrift store bins of used children’s toys, old kitchen utensils, and household nick knacks is a good day indeed.
HCLT: When did you realize you were an artist?
JW: That’s hard to say. I have always made things, using either art materials at hand or everyday discarded stuff that I could snag when no one was looking. (In the early days it was crayons, stray buttons and scraps of yarn, now its cardboard, colored pencils and found objects; I guess not much has changed in thirty years…). One memory does come to mind, in which the label of “artist” started to feel very real. Between high school and college I did an exchange year in Mexico City. That was in the early nineties and I was trying my best to be a hippie with ripped flannel shirts and a social conscious (It didn’t work out for very long). While backpacking around the country with a group of other exchange students from Europe and Japan, I would pull out my sketchbook from time to time and noodle around. One day we were sitting around in a public park in Puebla and some curious guy came over to our group and asked “How much for that drawing.” I wasn’t so much shocked that he would want to buy work out of my sketchbook, I was more amazed that he thought the drawing had enough merit to illicit the offer. My friends on that trip started referring to me as an artist, and from that point on I guess the idea stuck.
HCLT: You have a lot of exhibitions coming up in the next few months, which gives us an opportunity to see work you have made over the past few years, but what are you working on next?
: I am about to embark on a fantastic new collaborative project this fall with local choreographer Sarah Emery and the Moving Poets
. This is the first time I have collaborated extensively with performing artists so I’m really excited about where the project may lead. I am eager to see what happens when the faces, objects, abstract shapes and bits of text from my drawings and collages are freed from the page and become projections or props to be manipulated by real actors and dancers on a live stage. We start working on the project in earnest in mid-September and will be performing it at the beginning of November.
HCLT: What book is on your nightstand right now?
by George Eliot. Several people have recommended this novel to me over the years, so I decided to go ahead and tackle it. Middlemarch
is one of the great masterpieces of Victorian literature because it creates a complete interior and exterior world of multiple interconnected characters. I started reading it this past March and I am about half way through. The entire book is about 800 pages, so I am slowly chugging along…I used to devour lengthy novels when I lived in the NYC area and used public transportation every day. The train, subway, and bus were like my roving libraries. Now that I live in Charlotte I drive everywhere. I realized last spring that I couldn’t remember the last time I set to reading a great novel, so I sought out Middlemarch
to try and get back in the habit of digging into complex, meaty material. And after a few months I can happily report that I am completely invested in this story. The language is witty and beautiful and the characters frustrate, surprise, and delight me. I highly recommend it.
HCLT: Now that you have been a Charlotte resident for awhile, tell us where can we get the best meal in town?
: I should probably shoot for something more elegant and sophisticated, but frankly nothing can beat Jet’s
eight-corner deep-dish pizza, with pepperoni and jalapenos. Enjoy it with the local micro brew of your choice. I would probably go with something from Birdsong Brewing Company
All images on this page © Jason Watson. All rights reserved.