Alice Watson’s colour-drenched Spring Paintings chime with their namesake season. They bring to mind the distinct feeling of buoyancy when we thaw out from winter – and after the thawing: a terrific energy and sense of possibility.
Watson’s works are inventive and elegant – made ever more striking against the bronze and steel fittings of the La Cornue showroom in Surry Hills, Sydney – where Spring Paintings is on show.
We first took notice of the artist through our inaugural National Emerging Art Prize (NEAP) platform, where her Three Chairs 2021 placed as a finalist. This year, Alice was called on to produce a collection of works for our dedicated NEAP booth at the Affordable Art Fair, a project which has culminated in this beautiful exhibition.
I talk to Alice from her home in Albury about the driving force behind Spring Paintings, the importance of staying the course directly after (and between) prize acknowledgments and the artists that inspire her to set paint to canvas. Her replies, edited for length, are interspersed among photographs below:
Q: I’m interested in how you came to arrive at your style and aesthetic. Can you talk me through this process?
A: I’ve always been fascinated by a form filled with a solid colour. You might notice that there is very little evidence of blurred paint in my work. One of my main techniques is to draw with my left hand in permanent marker (to acquire a sense of freedom) but paint with my right hand (to maintain a sense of form).
I feel the need to have a sense of expression but control in my work. When I was a child I would reduce the shape of a watermelon to the bare minimum with ‘puff paint’ on a t-shirt. (very 80’s). I did screen printing in my HSC, drawn to the idea of clear cut lines and shapes. My later career move to become a graphic designer, as Adobe and Apple were changing the face of design in computers, The later career move to become a graphic designer, as Adobe and Apple were changing the face of design in computers, was also exciting to me. The idea of solid blocks of colour to create an aesthetic.
In those days it was not considered artistic to play with pixels but I still looked at a line on a canvas as I did a zoomed in photograph in photoshop or a vector in Illustrator, with wonderment. Stencils and aerosol paint was also another medium I toyed with. Always a contained line. The challenge was to find a way to bring life and expression to a 2D plane. And I was always considering how this could be achieved with a brush and paint.
Q: Can you speak to the genesis of Spring Paintings?
A: . I am drawn to arrangements of food or flowers with strong shadows as if I was looking through a view finder on a camera. My subject matter is a nostalgic thing from my childhood. I come from a strong line of cooks, gardeners and creatives. I just love the arrangements and shapes and I have an overwhelming sense of getting into my studio once I have an image that speaks to me.
Q: You were selected as a finalist in the inaugural National Emerging Art Prize (2021) for your work Three Chairs. Can you tell me how this prize came to your attention?
A: One day I started listening to the Interview with an Artist podcast on my drive ‘back from town’. It was Willy Russo interviewing Amber Creswell Bell. They were discussing the prize and I rushed around over the next few days to write an artist statement and get my painting to Sydney.
Q: How has your practice developed in the intervening years after you achieved finalist honours at NEAP?
A: Since the first National Emerging Art Prize, I just kept painting. No real choice in the matter. I need to paint as a kind of therapy. I have had a lot of trauma and hardship in my life as well as a recent ADHD diagnosis. Painting is my strong hold. A link to a healthy mental space. NEAP was a a huge compliment and moral booster, and the response I get locally at my solo shows is also wonderful. But I paint because I need to. When Amber emailed me regarding the Affordable Art Fair I was thrilled. But I already had work ready to go. I just paint in my studio as much as I can.
Q: No artist is an island. Are there particular painters, Australian or otherwise, that motivate you?
A: When I started thinking seriously about how to paint (in the same fashion as manipulatimg a computer picture or a spayed stencil ) it was Zoe Young’s work that was a lightening bolt moment. I had this culmination in my head of an expressive line from Matisse, ripped up pieces of flat coloured paper and a pile of chewed apples cores from my kids as subject matter. But is was considering Zoe’s work technically, that helped me take the big leap with a paint brush. I also covet John Bokor, Jane Guthleben, Stephen Ormandy, Laura Jones, Catherine Cassidy, Thomas Lineker and Kate Vella.
On the emerging artist front, and particulary from the NEAP: Brooke Whelan, Jennifer Rosnell, Andrea Sinclair, Sue Tesoriero, Emily Gordon, Sophie Witter and Julz Beresford.