by LeighKaren Labay
Stewart Watson is what you may call a “late bloomer.” After she got married and had a son, she finally gave a larger voice to her innate talent as an artist. Her art is 3-dimensional, combining the natural and the industrial. As you will see in the photos, her pieces are wonderfully whimsical, recalling a field of wildflowers or wild stalks of wheat. At the same time, there is a strictness of form, reminding one that industrialization has been superimposed upon nature, unfortunately. Ms. Watson is a great talent, and hopefully she will find the wide audience that she deserves.
HAHA MAG: Stewart, I know this question is so gauche, but your pieces are so unusual. What inspires you?
Stewart Watson: That’s a tough one, but here’s my artist statement; it may help round out where I am coming from with this most recent work -Potential Disasters and Other Family Matters.
The common conceptual thread woven through my work is a fascination with the point at which two things meet, thereby creating a third, entirely new event. Whether it is with feather-filled, upholstery fabric forms pinned to the wall by bowed steel armatures, or tense steel rods sprung between wall and floor, my interest lies in exploring how the slow, kinetic action of one, affects the other.
I construct three-dimensional drawings with steel rods that rely upon relationships with their surroundings. Developed through codes and natural genetic patterning I have created from my personal history, each rod represents a relationship. Some refer to specific genealogical lines that connect aunt to uncle or mother to son; others reflect relationships that develop through time and companionship. Both situations depend upon painted steel implements bolted to the wall holding it all together. The starting and ending points are ambiguous. They are simply a series of marks that link one point to another. Through decay, time, precariousness, humor, or some combination thereof, once the work leaves my hands, there is potential for slip, change, or collapse. I guide, direct, and balance elements, but once the installation is established, the resulting event is out of my control.
In my most recent series, Potential Disaster, each object is balanced, pinned, prodded, or propped in ways that accentuate the parlous nature of elements in space. Some seem to defy gravity, while others revel in its existence. Honesty in presentation and material remains conceptually vital to my work. There are no secret hangers or safety nets keeping the work from toppling over; the precariousness is real as is the potential for a kinetic event. Systematic dependency of materials without regard to origin or termination points is a fundamental aspect of each Potential Disaster. As with the results of genetic makeup, constant adjustments and concessions are made during construction to accommodate previous placement of elements, such that the installations often create unexpected compositions.
Through non-mechanical reproduction, multiples are created that are similar, but never the same. This phenomenon is crucial as evidence of the human hand and its imperfections in my process-oriented work. Sewing pillow forms with exposed seams emphasizes the industrial nature of their construction. The upholstery fabrics I have chosen are meant to evoke luxury and the perception of well-to-do living rooms or the opulence of a romantic costume classic. This is the ideal, not the reality of what I know; rather, it is a fabricated memory of my past. Lush fabrics have always lured me in with their shiny, gilded surfaces, and a decidedly false sense of wealth. By heaping the amorphous pillows together, I suggest both the comfort of a well-worn sofa and the relationships people have with things in their everyday lives. None of the objects or materials themselves are old or antiquated, yet I use them as contemporary signifiers of historical data.
This, and all of my work, is about time and decay; celebration and fear; balance and material; humor and family; mysteries and solutions; genetics and codes; pain and propping; dropping and arching; failing and succeeding. Looking forward is much like delving into history; it requires knowledge and an awareness of where I am right now in order to proceed. Genealogy and my family history continue to inform me as I reveal other generations of ancestors with every future construction. So much of what we are – as a family or species – is similar so that the tiny bit that makes us unique is what interests me.
Stewart Watson, detail: Potential Disasters, upholstery fabric, goose feathers, steel, thread, 145″ x 60″ x 60″, 2010
Stewart Watson, detail: Generator, steel, upholstery fabric, goose feathers, paint, 2010
Stewart Watson, detail: Inheritance, upholstery fabric, raw wool, steel, thread, 96″ x 80″ x 80″, 2009
HM: Is there a reason why your work seems so inaccessible? Do you have your own website yet?
SW: My work is accessible, but not in a tangible way – by that I mean, it is not necessarily “ownable”. I make the work to be experienced, not as a means to a financial end. This has its own pitfalls, as museums and collectors have a hard time with my work, though they are getting more flexible with the idea of collecting an idea or experience. My website is still in progress – I have a lot more work to put up on it. The web address is www.jlswatson.com.
HM: Have you always been an artist? Did you start out doing art when you were young?
SW: I have always been artistic. From a very early age, I found drawing to be the most efficient and successful way for me to express myself. In fact, most of my school papers involved at least one drawing, if not many, in lieu of text.
Sculpture and installation came later – I realized that through specific materials, I could talk about things without as much storytelling as an image might give – letting the things the work is made of fill in the gaps, and perhaps ask more questions.
HM: Your pieces seem very industrial but natural at the same time. Is this intentional?
SW: Thanks – yes. I have worked with the juxtaposition of industrial processes and homemaker processes for a long time. There are very similar processes – sewing is not far from welding, yet they are perceived very differently.
I think my work has become even more so as a few years ago, I had a surgery to my spine that added titanium rods and bolts to my bones, and I know it has influenced how I make art both physically and emotionally.
HM: What is your favorite piece? Why?
SW: Wow – usually the newest piece, as it involves the most recent questions I needed answered and is the sum of all the previous works I’ve made. So, I guess it is sibling rivalries, 2010. It is the jumping-off point for some new works, and is also the culmination of my graduate work, though I am also very proud of generator 2010; working on that piece made me so happy.
Stewart Wilson, Sibling Rivalries, goose feathers, Thanksgiving 2009 turkey feathers, upholstery fabric, steel, casters, thread, 150” x 72” x 84”, 2010
HM: How do you see yourself evolving as an artist? What is next for you?
SW: I am hoping to get to the next level – more museum shows, solo exhibitions, maybe even teach at the university level, but I’m not in as big a hurry as I was before my son came along. He’s 19 months old, and I sort of get the opportunity to revisit a few things I skipped over trying to get here.
I am curating some shows, have an upcoming exhibition in Pennsylvania, and am participating in a performance piece here in Baltimore. I am also working on some community art projects here in Baltimore. I will continue to run the gallery my friends and I started – Area 405 (www.area405.com). It is an all-volunteer run 6000+ square foot exhibition space.
And other than that, I’m just going to see what the universe has in store for me.