Carolyn V Watson: Embracing Physicality

Published 14 July 2014 Jane Denison

Carolyn V Watson is part of a wave of artists that are reviving “old fashioned” art making practices. Integral to Watson and other artists working in this marginal way (think Lae Oldman, Juz Kitson and Lindsay Pichaske), is the wholehearted commitment of the artist being immersed in each stage of their art. Embracing the physicality involved in the act of making, these artists privilege the handmade over the technical, the humble over the ostentatious and the organic over the manufactured. As a result, making art is a labour intensive, obsessive and at times ritualistic experience. This emphasis on process counters much mainstream contemporary art where the role of the artist is limited to the creation of an idea and the making is outsourced to skilled technicians. Yet, as witnessed in Watson’s work, the investment of the artist’s time and care confers a gravitas that cannot be achieved in any other way.

The radicalness in Watson’s work is that her process influences the way we view the work. The variety of materials used in her sculptures (sheep leather, bones, shellac, wax) imbues them with an intuitive sense of texture. When viewing her sculptures, the internal workings reveal themselves in the form of a semi-obscured fragment of bone or a gap in the outer fabric. These glimpses into the layers beyond the surface compel us to look closer, to investigate further, while all the time wondering: “how did she do that?!”

Although less conspicuous, Watson’s process is equally laborious in her two-dimensional art. She revels in traditional skills of time laboured preparation – making rabbit skin glue and assembling and stretching her surfaces by hand. Meticulous attention is also given to the design and presentation of the image so that the framing becomes an extension of the work. Here again, Watson’s personal hands-on approach adds depth to the finished work.

Based in Brisbane, Watson’s studio spans across a number of rooms in an old Queenslander house that doubles as her home. In a small, sunny room adjunct to the living area, she produces her latest work – a series of fine ink and gouache drawings on board. These realistic studies of odd couplings of animals are to be included in her upcoming show at Anthea Polson Art. Upstairs, a divided attic serves as a space to create large drawings on linen as well as an area to add finishing touches to sculptures. In contrast to the small realistic works, the large drawings are executed in an abstracted painterly style. Here Watson’s animals appear as faint tentative forms emerging from a misty background. It is in these works that the link between her paintings and sculptures is most visible. Watson rotates between each of the studio spaces, describing the relationship between the three mediums as symbiotic. “Each element of my practice sustains the other. Without drawing… the objects don’t exist,” she says. “I take on everything that I learn from the drawn line and treat the sculpted form with the same respect…I learn to translate through own my hands.”

On the day I visit, a newly finished sculpture that hangs on a wall rather like a trophy. Entitled matterovamind, the hybrid “creature” verges on the realm of fantasy. The form challenges biological taxonomies by merging the skeletal bones of different species to create a presence that, although unusual, also seems possible. The composition of one form upon another reminds me of a jockey perched on a racehorse – but a child could see it as a monster from a fairy tale. For Watson, the work concerns the conflict between our physical self and the controlling human elements of hesitation and doubt. The surprise is that although the form is undeniably strange, the lovingly made surfaces engender a familiarity that is both engaging and endearing.

When working on her sculptures, Watson jokingly refers to herself as the “organic mechanic” who brings together an eclectic array of materials. In this light, she epitomises the “bricoleur” as introduced by French theorist Claude Lévi-Strauss. According to Lévi-Strauss, the bricoleur feels his way to a solution using the tools and materials at hand and without conceptualising the project from the outset. Although Watson’s process may begin with preliminary sketches and the making of a maquette, she also thrives on making adjustments as the form takes shape and acquires its own identity.

Watson’s passionate immersion in the process of making art is visible throughout her oeuvre. As an inter-disciplinary artist who takes huge risks in pushing her work in new directions, Watson is receiving recognition in national art awards. In 2013 she was the recipient of the Life Art Worldwide International Award. Watson was also selected as a finalist in the Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award, the John Fries Memorial Art Prize, Sunshine Coast Art Prize 3D and in 2011 was awarded Highly Commended from the Marie Ellis OAM Drawing Prize. Her work can be viewed at Anthea Polson Art on the Gold Coast and BMG Art in Marleston, South Australia. 

Header Image: Carolyn V Watson, One Thing Lead to Another, polymer clay, magic-sculpt , vintage  doilies, felt, sheep leather, linen, fox skulls, steel rods, bees wax, flocking, 45 x 40 x 78 cm. John Fries Memorial Prize Finalist 2012  and  Sunshine Coast Art Prize Finalist 2013. Music Courtesy: Johann Sebastian Bach, Prelude In D Minor, BWV999.

Image: detail, Carolyn V Watson, The Experience of Something Living, watercolour, pastel primer, charcoal, conte, pastel on linen, 91 x 110cms, 2014. “At once both intensely personal and universal in their implication – ten intimately small, painted works and three remarkable sculptures – express Carolyn V Watson’s endeavour to elicit “moments of empathy through a visual and “poetic triggering…” Jacqeline Houghton