Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Artist Profile: Heather Watts

Artist Profile: Heather Watts

Human and animal nature square off against each other through the pageantry of anthropomorphic villains and anti-heroes, rendered with an eye to what they reveal about the realities of our own world.

Wow. That’s kinda cool … and how Heather Watts’ art is aptly described on her website. Indeed, the characters in her paintings with their often wistful stares suggest a world both whimsical and fatal, like a kitty cat suddenly going for your throat.

Heather is a self-taught artist from Vancouver. Since 2003, she’s been painting fulltime for a living. Her work has been on exhibition at plenty of the biggies, including the Shooting Gallery, M Modern, Roq la Rue, and DC Gallery. She’s also had paintings on view at the recent Tiki Art Show in Amsterdam and the 2007 London Luau.

For Heather, painting is similar to assembling a jigsaw puzzle:

I piece together images, words and colors, working on the faith that eventually the chaos in front of me will come to resemble the picture I have in my head …

However, rather than “create the puzzle pieces” herself, Heather experiences the world around her and “cuts” the memories of her experiences in a way similar to how a collagist might clip pictures from magazines to form a new image – or in Heather’s case, a new memory. Such a process allows Heather to express her “found ideas” with a voice that speaks through a single image.

What follows is my interview with Heather in which she talks Tiki - and non-Tiki - and shares with me about how she came to be a fulltime professional artist and about her life in Vancouver.

1. How long have you been painting?

I've been painting since I was a toddler really, but I didn't get started with acrylics, shading and that sort of thing until I was around nine or ten. My grandma was a potter and painter and she helped get me started with my first paints. Through school I did all kinds of art - drawing, animation, sculpture - and painting was just one of them. I even gave it up for awhile in university. I started painting full time in 2003. I had just received a small settlement from a car accident three years prior. Then in June 2003 I broke my ankle and couldn't walk around for six weeks. To use a Simpson-ism, it was a classic "crisitunity".

2. What inspired you to try and go at it professionally?

I never really wanted to be an artist when I was growing up because I thought I didn't like art. I loved making all kinds of art, but tedious art class slideshows and field trips to a silent stuffy Art Gallery didn't infuse me with any great passion for the business. I thought art was this dead pretentious thing, most of which I just didn't 'get'. I did consider being an animator, or a set designer, but those were never things I passionately wanted to be. After high school I took history, economics and religion courses and got a BA in Asian Area Studies from the University of British Columbia. Ironically, my academic pursuits have probably influenced my art better than art school ever could have.

When I first started dating my (now) fiancé I did a small painting for him as a gift. He was so blown away. I gave him another one a few months later and he pretty much never let up in telling me I needed to be a professional painter. He was so supportive and really helped me feel like I wasn't crazy to just jump in and go after it. My parents backed me all the way too, which was so important for me.

3. Tell me about your “The End is Near” Stuff.

When I got offered the opportunity last fall of putting together my first mini-solo-show, I was so excited at the thought of putting together my own concept. Usually, in group shows, artists are given a theme, so this was the first time things were really wide open for me creatively. At first I thought I would try and incorporate Tiki and branch into some other things, but as I started working with ideas, I found Tiki was the farthest thing from my mind. Tiki had allowed me to really have fun with my art, to build my talent and to entertain, but for awhile I had wanted to communicate, through my art, thoughts about the world at large. In the end I chose the broad theme "The End is Near" because of both its timelessness and timeliness.

I was nervous about plunging outside Tiki for this show. At first it felt like it would be a sudden break, but really the transition was pretty seamless. I think because my Tiki work is often based on a sense of nostalgia and my paintings for "The End is Near" came from the same place. I also found that a lot of the imagery branched from the same inspirations as some of my Tiki work (for example, "The Pale Horse Finds his Calling" has the same carnival-esque roots as "Insert Coin" and "False Idols"). But it was nice to not have to limit myself, to be able to open up the Pandora’s Box of artistic expression and just put it all out there.

I think the resulting pseudo-chronology of imagery successfully touched on the sense of timelessness/timeliness I felt about the subject. I found the Cold War and the 1960s particularly inspiring in this, not least of all for the strange parallels running through our culture today. The painting I did regarding the 'peace' in Iraq, entitled "Who Says You Can't Eat Democracy?" was the most emotional and personal for me, I think because it addresses a wound that is still very raw in the collective consciousness. For me, the show as a whole, but most particularly that painting, was a way of sharing and illuminating things I find unbelievably tragic, and trying to do so with insight, humour and a little bit of hope.

4. How's Vancouver?

I love it here! I was born and raised in Vancouver. Summers here are the best, although whenever we get ten days of sunshine I actually experience a strange sense that something is horribly amiss. I need the rain to keep me balanced. :-)

Our embryonic art scene is just cracking out of its egg, and our tiki scene is snowballing. The Lucky Red Gallery and JEM Gallery have been open for a while now and there are always a ton of talented local (and international!) artists ready to fill their walls. Vancouver's first big " Tiki event" will be at the Waldorf Hotel this July put on by Heritage Vancouver and local Tiki shop Funhauser Decor, focusing on Vancouver's Tiki history!

Click here to delve deeper into Heather Watts’ dark paradise (and make sure to tell her you’re their at Tiki Chris’ bidding).

No comments:

More Stuff

Search Tiki Chris Presents ...

Latest ontoTravel

Latest ontoLondon


Don't Get it?

If you like this blog ...

Blog Archive