TWO YEARS AGO, Telfair’s Erin Dunn and Rachel Reese visited Lisa D. Watson’s home for one of their #art912 studio tours. They were met with a mini scale model of the Jepson Center, complete with tiny renditions of Watson’s paintings stuck onto the walls with Velcro.
“They were like, ‘Oh, my God, you built a model,’” Watson recalls with a shrug. “I’m a designer and a space planner, so if I have a little room, I want to build a model.”
That model turned out to be “Avanguardia,” Watson’s solo exhibition that opens Nov. 17 at the Jepson.
“When they first told me, I reread the emails twenty times and thought, ‘Oh, God, Erin made a mistake,’” Watson laughs.
The selection was no mistake. “Avanguardia” is a powerful narrative exhibition of large-scale wood paintings that show Watson’s passion for the environment. While Watson has her own storyline in mind, she wants viewers to come up with their own meaning.
“I want people to walk through the hall, come back out, and hopefully feel positive,” Watson says, “because there’s a lot of negative crap going on right now. Even though I’m extremely concerned with the environment, I still have a lot of hope.”
Watson has been an artist/activist in our community for years and may be best known for her efforts with Span the Gap, the initiative to change the name of the Talmadge Bridge to something more inclusive.
She notes that she’s always been fascinated by bridges and their artistry.
“I love painting bridges, and I really respect the engineering that goes into making a bridge,” she explains. “But that said, I love animals. I like bridges, I love animals.”
“Avanguardia” follows two deer, a mother and baby, as they attempt to navigate an increasingly man-made world. She wanted to incorporate animals into the exhibition, but it took her a while to decide which one.
“I went through a lot of animals,” Watson chuckles. “Like, what are the animals I see? I was in Tennessee and I could not believe how many deer [there were]. Every mile, they were right on the freeway.”
Watson also notes the similarities between deer and humans, like a strong maternal bond and the tendency of fathers to leave.
“I asked [my husband] Don, ‘Is it weird that I want people to walk through here and go, ‘Aww?’ Is that cheesy for the art world?” Watson wonders. “I really wanted some kind of emotion, for people to think about what we’re doing.”
Above all, that’s Watson’s takeaway: think about our impact. That attitude carries over into her creative process, since all the materials she uses are recycled. In her studio, she has a rack full of salvaged scraps, from helium balloons to security envelopes.
“Everything is made from things that would have been thrown away,” she notes.
Watson’s passion for recycling began when she was a college freshman working at Kinko’s and saw her coworker carrying a huge bag of paper out of the store. He was responsible for recycling the paper and had to drive it to the recycling center himself.
“I go, ‘Can I come?’” Watson recalls. “I wanted to go to the recycling center. It fucking changed my world.”
Today, Watson paints on wood that husband Don brings back from his job at Bella Terra Interior Solutions. Watson cuts the bigger pieces with a jigsaw, but for a more finite cut, Don uses the CNC (computer numerical control) machine at work.
While working with reclaimed materials is more sustainable, it’s also more limiting.
“Because I have to choose the material, I have to base the artwork on the material I have,” Watson explains. “As much as I loved Katherine Sandoz’s show at Location, I don’t have that repetitive size because I can’t go buy canvases. It limits me, but it pushes me.”
“Avanguardia” is a push in the right direction for Watson.
“It’s so colorful, a little more colorful than I’m used to,” she reflects. “I don’t know what is coming out of me.”