Carolina Art Crush: Chris Watts

North Carolina hereby claims Chris Watts, by way of this Carolina Art Crush. We think it’s fair. The artist, currently based in Brooklyn, has long ties to North Carolina. He grew up in the High Point area, earned his BFA from University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and was a fixture in the art community in Charlotte before moving to the Northeast a few years ago (with some time spent in Paris as well). He currently lives in Brooklyn, where he’s completing a 2016-2017 9-month Workspace Residency for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, a program that focuses on creative practice development for emerging artists working across disciplines.

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Chris Watts in his Studio, Brooklyn, NY, Winter 2017. Photo: Kevin Condon

HappeningsCLT: Describe yourself in three words?
Chris Watts: Only three words??

HCLT: Who or what inspires you artistically?
CW: Life. Like Deleuze, I believe in the world and want to be in it. I want to be in it all the way to the end of it because I believe in another world in the world and I want to be in that. I plan on staying a believer, like Curtis Mayfield.

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Chris Watts, Passenger Seat (raw version), 2016

HCLT: When did you realize you were an artist?
CW: I realized I was an artist when I was coloring the walls behind my parents couch when I was five. My parents weren’t exactly thrilled when they found out that I had turned the area behind the couch into the Lascaux Cave. But, they were fairly supportive of my creative nature. It wasn’t until I concluded studies in Poland that I knew I wanted to practice art professionally.

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HCLT: Where can we see your work?
CW: I had some throwbacks on view at Winston Salem State University’s Diggs Gallery that came down a few days ago. If you’re in Charlotte you can see work at Apple Pie: An American Art Show at Goodyear Arts which opened last Friday. I also put together some eye candy for Gallery Twenty-Two, also in Charlotte, that’s currently on view until April 8th. The exhibition is curated and cataloged by Charlotte’s very own Jessica Gaynelle Moss, who is currently the Creative Director at the Harvey B Gantt Center for African Art + Culture located Uptown. She’s doing some really exciting things there so its been a pleasure to collaborate with her with this work. I post moderately (no pun intended) on my insta: iamwatts and my website: iamchriswatts.com is always up. Just hope that it’s been updated.

HCLT: Tell us about your current body of work?
CW: You’ll find in my new paintings that my current interest is not so much as to abort representation, nor neglect of the figure altogether, but to privilege it, and re-examine our relationship to surface. In an effort to provoke a sense of detachment; of disorientation, which is not just unfortunate, but is necessary; and also the feeling of alienation from perceptive reality by dissolving the conventional parameters of vision to bring us to the next state, to a enlightened dimension of futurity. 

My shifted material focus takes advantage of the dialectic between surface and its transparency – the seeing into or through things. Creating representations of windows as switches into another, layered, assemblage of spaces where the distinction between what is real and what is represented is thoroughly confused. I’ve also reflected on instances of both the figure and non-figure role of the black narrative as a way to interrogate representation and question how we choose to identify.  

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Chris Watts, II. Beyond the Beyond, 2017

HCLT: What do you think is the most valuable art experience in the Carolinas?
CW: I don’t recall any specific institutional art experience that imprinted itself in my mind as being valuable.  Although times are changing, the Carolinas aren’t really known for that, per se. Art experiences that proclaim themselves as offering any real value in the South have to cultivate themselves from a different point of origin – a place that situates itself amongst the authentically raw, soulful air of the southern spirit. The South is magically amazing, but it can also be scary as hell. I was fairly observant as a kid growing up here, and I was always drawn to those pockets of magic while experiencing some shitty things that I didn’t understand until I left the South and later returned. This narrative is embedded in that experience.

HCLT: What book is on your nightstand right now?
CW: Giuliana Bruno’s Surface has been my slow burner while One Hundred Years of Solitude is a re-read. Speculative Blackness, The Future of Race and Science has been my train companion.  

HCLT: Best meal in the Charlotte?
CW: Crepe Cellar…still. Jeff…Paul, wassup.

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Chris Watts, detail, The Glass Rebellion, Part 1, 2017 

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