Storyboard: Joseph Watson

Seeking Inspiration in Strange Places "The ArtCenter Way"

One of my priorities as an artist is being open to outside influences. Sometimes I’ll be influenced by random things like the color blue. Other times, I find myself influenced by objects: vehicles, airplanes, or musical instruments. At one point, I found myself really getting into old newspapers and publications from the 1920s. I find all these disparate points of influence fascinating. They are rich in creative ingredients that inevitably find their way into my work.

Early in my career as a painter, I was focused on aquatic motifs, particularly fish and ocean life. Eventually, I steered away from those fixations, before arriving at the style that I’m currently known for: airplanes constructed out of musical instruments, “conceptual flora” in urban situations, scenes of people in crowded public places, to name a few.

I am convinced that the people who buy and appreciate my artwork see themselves or something familiar in my pieces. There’s some kind of connection there. The last thing I want do is lock down a “trademark” (i.e. restrictive) style. I never want to be able to say “this is my style forever.”

I was an Illustration major at ArtCenter at a time when the Fine Art discipline was basically relegated to an academic minor. I was majorly into both editorial and entertainment illustration. My mindset was never on fine art. Little did I know that ArtCenter had planted a new skill into my existing artistic tool kit. This is what kick-started a whole new way of thinking about the creative process.

Fine art became my escape. Back in 1999, I was really into designing video games, so coming home and painting became an outlet to express my own ideas without oversight. I cannot stress how important it is for creative people to have an escape. Even now, when I find myself involved with commercial art and the professional management of artists, I have my escape. You cannot rely solely on your full-time commercial endeavors to truly scratch your creative itch. If I feel stress or panic or something chafing at my insides, I unleash it on a canvas. I turn a negative feeling into a positive result.

Back in 2006, I was making a name for myself in the gallery scene in Las Vegas. At a certain point, I found that I was being pigeonholed for painting dynamic crowd portraits. It came time to shift directions and seek new inspiration. I found myself looking at a bouquet of flowers one day and thinking that I wanted to tell a story using a flower as my main character.

I know, I know, just hear me out. The idea was: create a narrative where a flower could endure the struggle and joy and perseverance and success that we, as humans, feel every day. The result became a miniseries, titled “Urban Flora Collection,” about a resilient flower who traverses through fire, endures frostbite, and still makes it out the other end in one piece. All of this was a result of my deep resistance to being categorized.

Throughout my career, I’ve tried to lend my time to worthy organizations and projects. I have works in the permanent collection at Cirque de Soleil. I’ve conceptualized art for a TV show that got greenlit. I’ve lent my time to the St. Jude Heart Sculpture Project.

ArtCenter set me on the path to be able to do these things. I will always have a relationship with the College. Frankly, I consider myself a child of the school. The way I think and see things is ArtCenter. The way I administer critiques to the young artists that I mentor is pure ArtCenter. Even my gallery work, which has been a micro-institution of the Las Vegas arts scene, is uncut ArtCenter.

ArtCenter remains a part of you forever. The “ArtCenter Way” is about sparking the imagination of the youth, and compelling people to look for inspiration in unlikely places.

And that’s the only way I know how to do things.

Joseph Watson
BFA 98 Illustration
Director, Joseph Watson Collection

Photo by Ruben Martinez

ArtCenter remains a part of you forever. The ‘ArtCenter Way’ is about sparking the imagination of the youth, and compelling people to look for inspiration in unlikely places.

Joseph Watson
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