After years of trying to knock back the impulse to be an artist, Brisbane based Carolyn V Watson has embraced her roots and stellar talent for the arts, and has been in a whirlwind of creating. Sourcing inspiration for her works within discarded animal bones and textiles, Carolyn produces an array of work -- including sculpture anddrawings. While wrapping up an exhibition in Brisbane and beginning preparation for an upcoming solo show, Carolyn spoke to us about her creative journey and artistic future.
Liz. Have you always wanted to be an artist?
Carolyn. As a younger child it was kind of something that I had a talent for. It was also a means of escape or bargaining. Being the youngest in the family I was left alone a lot so it became something that could always occupy my time. It has kind of grown up with me and I have become more comfortable with it as time has gone on. In my mid to early twenties I went through a great deal of depression and self sabotage. At that time I tried to outrun all that I had known, to try and become what others thought I should be. It has been a very long ten years but as I have matured and as I’ve realised all of the things I'm capable of, I have become more rich in a way that I'm more comfortable with it and keen to keep working and keep seeing what is possible.
Liz. Why were you trying to get away from art?
Carolyn. I was doing my best to escape my own self doubt and trying to deal with external pressures . At the time I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of my decision to do art. So my response was to assume another identity, become something else, cause art was going nowhere. I tried different courses, tried to fit myself into another mould and tried to attain the idea of success that my friends had. I have been known as being involved with art ever since I was a small child so I guess at that point I just thought there had to be something more. In November of 2005 I reached a cross roads -- I was twenty seven and I could choose to continue being a shadow of myself, or I could let my ego and pride take hold and begin again.
So in May of 2006 I held my first solo exhibition a mix of oil paintings, small sculptures and an installation. It was almost a complete sell-out. It has been a slow journey over the last ten years, exhibiting and developing momentum again but I guess I’ve rediscovered a childhood enthusiasm for my practice work. I have not looked back . All the dead ends and crap that my early twenties gave me has been refashioned into resilience and a tenacity to keep moving forward.
Liz. When did you begin your endeavour into sculpture?
Carolyn. I can remember back through primary and high school, I was always dabbling with clay and hand-built forms. In 2005, due to a lack of access to a kiln, I started mucking around with polymer clay, an oven bake clay. As the scale of the work has grown, I have integrated elements of bone, found objects, textiles and sheep leather. It has reached a point where I only use polymer clay as a small feature component. There have been different points over the last ten years that have significantly shifted my practice. A key aspect that has remained the same is the use of line and repetition in my drawings, and evidenced in my sculptures in the form of a hand-stitched surface.
Liz. Do you have a favourite material to work with?
Carolyn. I guess it’s always changing and it becomes a love/hate relationship. I’ll greatly enjoy the stitching but I suppose it’s more the technique rather than the material. I enjoy the actual process of stitching, it is highly labour intensive and the results will take at least two months to come about. But it will reach a point where I don’t want to look at another needle and thread. And then I’ll have a lot of time working with line in a two-dimensional form, whether it is using pen or charcoals in the process. It’s about being completely open to the possibilities of the materials -- I’ve definitely learnt that over a long period of time. Sometimes materials will be just as active a player in the construction of an object or a form as the initial idea of the image itself. I think having that flexibility in the material has definitely come through, rather than just being fixed into one way of working.
Liz. Do you have a favourite part in the process?
Carolyn. For me a favourite aspect within the sculptural side of things is finding two bones, or something else, completely different species of animal and finding a way that they can fit together in a cohesive manner, and it is almost like creative trick of the eye. So for me, something like that is a highlight. With the drawings, it is when they are so paired back and there are just one or two lines added that kind of tie the whole thing together. I guess it is doing the things that you labour over so much and then it just being one or two small pieces that will bring it together. I think those are the moments that will just keep you going back for more because these are small victories that occur and the importance of them ... because without those actions or pieces fitting, the work doesn’t look cohesive, and it looks disjointed. So those off-the-cuff moments are the favourite parts for me.
Liz. What is a message that you aim to share with your art and workshops in schools?
Carolyn. It has been funny in different workshops at different high schools that I have done, because there's been a few kids who are put off by the idea of using bone or using these discarded objects. But I guess for myself it has been about using these objects — which would normally have been discarded — and giving them a chance of a new life and almost reanimating them. I've also learnt that once kids start to see what is possible and what can be valued beyond what is recognised as a valued object, they start to see things in a different way. It is reconfiguring the idea of how you can see value.
A lot of the materials do not cost a great deal, most are found or donated, so the true value just comes from the labour and the life that I contribute by creating the pieces. My work was never about shock, it was trying to create pieces where they are fixed in the in-between, where there is enough of the familiar to recognise but there is something just not quite right or something that is beyond words or better yet illicit a memory. I guess by having that element of the in-between or the unknown, it becomes a conversation without answer. That is my role as the maker, to act as the catalyst , to make work that is relatable, deeply personal but essentially to bring a wonder back into the white space.
Liz. So what is next for you?
Carolyn. I will be having a solo show with Anthea Polson Art next year in October so a large portion of next year will be working toward a body of work for that. I will be tutoring a course that I have designed at the Brisbane institute, plus a number of workshops with high schools. And a large painted commission is due for completion in April.