Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Featured Artist: Esther Pearl Watson

“Faux-naïve” and “faux-Outsider” are a few of the terms most frequently tossed around when it comes to describing the style of Los Angeles-based artist Esther Pearl Watson’s charming, folksy paintings. But since viewing the magical, sparkling (literally. With glitter.) acrylic-on-panel works in her current show at Billy Shire Gallery, “Visions of the Future,” I happen to believe that such labels rob Watson of the characteristic I found most emanating: sincerity. That her painting style is implicitly derivative of Outsider/Naïve art seems less likely than that it is merely indicative of the childhood from which her illustrated memories have been plucked.

Through humorous and empathy-inducing narratives, Watson presents tales of growing up all over rural Texas with an eccentric father who had a penchant for—if not a fixation with—building flying saucers from scrap metal. The glorified stick figure inhabitants, stylized lollipop trees, constellation-packed night skies, and glittering pink spaceships are all appropriate fixtures in a collection that details an imaginative young girl’s interpretation of events.

Watson, who has also published a Fantagraphics graphic novel Unlovable and is married to fellow artist Mark Todd, has hit her stride in this endearing, enchanting series. “Visions of the Future” is on display through February 7th and you can learn more about Esther via her website

Luckily for us, the artist was kind enough to participate in our second installment of “12 Questions.” I’ve also included some images and details from her current exhibition at Billy Shire Gallery in Culver City, California.

12 Questions: Esther Pearl Watson

Q: At what moment did you first feel like an artist?
A: I've felt like an artist since I was 8 years old.

Q: What has been your biggest art faux pas?
A: Being over-confident especially when I first graduated college. I did a lot of work for magazines and children's books. Experience has made me more humble and I have tried to remember the lessons I have learned the hard way. Which are many...

Q: Whose style do you most admire?
A: Children and outsider artists. I try not to get caught up in any one artist’s style. I simply like the purity and passion of someone compelled to make art and not concerned about anyone else's rules.

Q: If your work had a soundtrack, what would it be?
A: There would be a lot of Willie Nelson and 80's Italian Disco.

Q: What is your trademark?
A: Narratives that are funny and sad at the same time.

Q: Name your dream collaborative team.
A: Anyone from Yosemite Studios.

Q: How does where you live affect the art you make?
A: Being in Los Angeles, there are some great thrift stores and yard sales. I love work by people who don't even realize that what they are making could be considered "art," like people who decorate their yards for Christmas, or first grade classroom reports about cafeteria food, or finding cassette tapes as spoken letters intended to be mailed to distant family members. I know so many ’zinesters out here. I love people who go through all the trouble to self-publish ’zines and mini-comics when they could easily blog.

Q: If you could travel back to any era for its art and lifestyle, what time would you visit?
A: 1980. As a female artist, I wouldn't go too far back in time or my lifestyle and artistic freedom would suffer dramatically.

Q: Sum up your aesthetic in 3 adjectives.
A: Blobby, funny and sincere

Q: What is your must-have when you're at work in the studio?
A: Crappy instant coffee and headphones

Q: If money was no object, what major project might you take on?
A: A ton of projects...I would travel and make painting of the stories involving various people and places. Or start a publishing company.

Q: What work of art that you've personally seen has most moved you?
A: The Murphy Brothers, two artistic scavengers out in Waxahachie, Texas showed me their house, their pin-laden clothes, home-made jewelry, collection of Chihuahua's and cart. They occasionally sell work at the Webb Gallery in Waxahachie. The Webbs have an amazing collection of outsider art and stories to go along with them.

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