‘There is a certain sensitivity and heightened awareness, seemingly peculiar to artists, that compels them to investigate the vicissitudes of life – to probe relentlessly at some existential core’. The profound ruminations underpinning Carolyn V Watson’s subject matter may be said to exemplify this dictum. An interaction of medium and meaning, her sculptures and ‘drawn paintings’ on linen embody a dimension of experience that helps define our humanness.
Deliberately ambiguous and manifesting an unsettling ‘strangeness’, Watson’s work propels the viewer into a visceral engagement. The challenge of a personal connection is augmented by the implications inherent in the title for her new body of work. “Why Cloak?” Watson prompts. ” A cloak involves notions of what is seen or presented, what is concealed, what is known, what is assumed and the grey of the in-between. A cloak can be a literal covering of form, a physical guard, a disguise but also an emotional tactic involving the notion of a mask or false front: the action of hiding in plain sight. For me, at this point in time, all the physical/emotional/mental states can be surmised by the power and simplicity of that single word.”
The evidence of process and a respect for the handmade is an integral component in all of Watson’s art making. With her new series she explains that she wanted to make herself uncomfortable, to be uncompromising and push the materials she had become familiar with. “Both the sculptural and linen works focus upon the abstraction of the surface. Each is a fragment, a framed excerpt of an unknown whole. The hardest part of the process was letting go of the guide rope and trusting in the marks and actions. However, I still wanted to abide by a certain formality in the making.”
Watson relates that her works on linen are not about answers but marking a moment. They are surfaces where the rational and emotional collide. Boundaries have disappeared. Through layers of pastel primer, ink and watercolour as many as twenty underdrawings in willow charcoal rise and subside in symbiotic relationship. Watson describes them as “the interplay between chance and repetition – a trying to find the honest response rather than a contrived design”. She tells that the fragmentary nature of the imagery, with only a portion of the information provided, has allowed her to readdress her approach to composition and further the recent shifts in her practice. “Prior to this my drawings had been quite washed-out, dealing in thin veils of barely-there colour, now there is a thickness; a hide-like quality of colour and commitment.”
Inescapably compelling in their occupation of real space, Watson’s sculptures are forms without a tangible origin: not species specific. “These are all outsiders, gathering articles and armour,” Watson discloses. Bodies assembled from a conglomerate of polymer clay, bone, wax, found timber, sheep leather, felt and doilies sit atop very long, spindly metal legs which activate a metronome-like gentle swaying at the slightest touch. Augmenting their strange corporeality, each figure in the Cloak series has one blind eye, apart from the more familiar looking homebody sculpture in which a real glass eye casts forth a doleful gaze. “The structure of the armature was an integral element in directing the viewer’s focus,” she continues. “The created spaces and openings are carefully considered compositional devices, operating like viewfinders. The reading of a work is thus determined by its background or the angle of perspective.”
Watson is a remarkably creative, multidisciplinary artist whose sculptures and linens shy not from uncertainty and challenge. Their intention is to provoke wonder and act as a conduit to personal reflection and transformation. She prefers not to ascribe specific meaning to the individual pieces but rather, wants us to “grow our own narrative”, to experience moments of empathy that embrace the in-between, to see beyond the cloak, the disguise, the distraction. “It is what is not seen, or what has been removed, that holds the weight,” she concludes.
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