ROSS WATSON Untitled#
“Isn’t it marvelous! I’m incredibly flattered to have been depicted like this in such a stunning scene.” Matthew Mitcham, Olympic Gold Medalist Diver
“They remind me of dreams—your paintings are so beautiful.” François Sagat, Porn Star, Artist and Model
â€œThe painting looks amazing! Ross, I love it, and am very flattered.â€? Marco da Silva, Dancer and Choreographer
ROSS WATSON Untitled#
10 — INTRODUCTION
by Mark Henderson, Artist, Art Historian, formerly of the J. Paul Getty Center, Los Angeles
Encountering the work of Ross Watson for the first time, one notices immediately the handsome, youthful men who play key roles in most of his compositions. Although not portraits in the traditional sense, Mr. Watson’s paintings nevertheless depict actual living men—professional models and athletes—who posed in the studio for the artist. Tanned and healthy, and with physiques crafted by a lifetime of athletic activity (as opposed to gym workouts) these present day Apollos exude an insouciant, almost careless sexuality. But there is so much more to a Ross Watson painting than these fresh-faced beauties. Regular museum goers and students of art history will immediately recognize in his work the inclusion of details, or entire compositions, excerpted from well-known masterworks of Western European painting, especially in his Classic de Novo, Männer/Europa and Galerie des Glaces series. Watson’s young male models, who are almost always dressed in twenty-first century attire, are usually depicted as if standing in front of these paintings, or in several instances, cleverly integrated into the Old Master compositions themselves.
“Watson creates strikingly conceptual images that startle with their iconographic and spatial ambiguities.” Iconic works by such art historical luminaries as Gerard ter Borch, Jacob van Ruisdael, Jan Vermeer, JacquesLouis David, and especially the innovative seventeenth century Italian master Caravaggio, appear regularly in Watson’s œuvre. But these well-known paintings do not simply serve as decorative backdrops for his young male models. On the contrary, the pairing of the models with these “paintings within paintings” can be interpreted as thought provoking and often humorous commentaries on the theatricality and melodrama—and underlying sexual content—of Old Master history, mythological, and genre paintings. That the models appear to ignore the actual paintings looming behind them in favor of small cell phone reproductions of the same images also makes a witty yet provocative statement about our own highly digitized culture. Moreover, by uniting seemingly incongruous subjects—modern day figures amidst Old World (and otherworldly) settings—Watson creates strikingly conceptual images that startle with their iconographic and spatial ambiguities, and place his work firmly in a long and exalted thematic legacy that extends from the nineteenth century proto-Impressionist painter Édouard Manet to the Pop artists of the 1960s. Watson’s uncanny ability to replicate the painting techniques of numerous artists working in a wide variety of individual styles, exemplifies not only his dexterity with paint, but also his sensitive and scholarly approach to art historical subject matter. By removing these esteemed works from their normal milieu (museums and art books), Watson bestows upon them a fresh, and sometimes unexpected perspective, almost as if we were seeing them anew. In the painting that features Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait of Sir Thomas More, the nude male model stands with a noose-like rope around his neck, a talisman of death by execution. The model stares into space with a searching, contemplative gaze that serves to transform More’s otherwise staid demeanor into an expression of haunting resignation in the face of his impending doom. The two figures do not touch or engage each other directly; however, each “communicates” and enhances the other through Watson’s careful construction of atmosphere and mood.
Ross Watson Untitled #21/07 (after Holbein; featuring Dean Allright), 2005
“The Surrealist painters René Magritte and Salvador Dalí, who delighted in this type of visual paradox, would be proud!” Just as Manet, in his Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, transformed and updated the paintings of the Venetian Renaissance masters Giorgione and Titian by placing contemporary nudes in Arcadian settings, so too does Watson reinterpret and re-imagine the meanings of, for example, Caravaggio’s religious and mythological works for his twenty-first century audience. Casting the current French adult film performer François Sagat in Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of Saint Peter serves as an especially piquant example. Sagat, known primarily to gay men as an object of sexual desire, makes a surprising appearance as the martyred saint, lending an unexpectedly carnal element to what is otherwise a deadly serious and tragic subject.
Jacob Isaackszon van Ruisdael Panoramic View of the Amstel Looking Towards Amsterdam, 1675
12 — INTRODUCTION
Gerard (Gerrit) ter Borch d. J. Gallant Conversation; known as ‘The Paternal Admonition,’ 1655
Ross Watson Untitled #12/03 (after ter Borch, 1655), 2003
These elements of surprise and incongruity can be found throughout Watson’s work. Juxtaposing ostensibly disparate elements in a single painting or sculpture, often in humorous and ironic ways, to create a wholly original work, was a key practice of several twentieth century avant-garde art movements, and we can see Watson working in this esteemed tradition. In Watson’s Acquisitions Actual series, the artist combines an assortment of seemingly unrelated objects—a swimmer and a fighter jet, a zebra standing on a crushed automobile, a parachute dangling above a cement truck—often rendered in disorienting shifts in proportion. The Surrealist painters Salvador Dalí and René Magritte, who delighted in this type of visual paradox, would be proud! Of course, depicting images borrowed from popular culture was a favorite device of many artists of the 1950s and 60s and, indeed, Watson’s broad use of richly saturated color and gleaming highlights, reminiscent of commercial, specifically billboard, advertising allies his work closely with such Pop Art as James Rosenquist. In the Galerie des Glaces series, and indeed in much of his work, we see Watson, like Magritte, playing with spatial and visual anomalies, disrupting our preconceived notions of what is flat and what is three-dimensional. Watson’s highly illusionistic style of painting creates an almost trompe-l’œil effect that leaves us to question our perceptions of reality—what is tangible and what is just an illusion? Are we to assume that the painting within the painting is separate from the model or do they both occupy the same space? How do these seemingly incompatible objects relate to one another? Are we witnessing a dream? Such unanswerable questions lie at the heart of Watson’s work, and exemplify the fascinating complexities that never cease to engage and captivate our imagination.
Ross Watson Untitled #06/08 (after van Ruisdael, 1682), 2008
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION 11 GALLERIES: Classic De Novo
Silence / Always Afternoon
Ian Roberts ‘The Sets’
Galerie Des Glaces
Myth And Reality
INTERVIEW 209 BIOGRAPHY 216 LIST OF COLOR PLATES 218 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 223
CLASSIC DE NOVO
“Watson’s painting of Matthew Mitcham is terrifically dynamic, and is immensely popular with our visitors.” Dr Christopher Chapman, Curator, The National Portrait Gallery
De Novo translates to something new arising from something old. I’m offering a new context for the classical imagery, and exploring various contemporary themes including isolation, and the disposable society today. In the painting Untitled #12/09 (after Caravaggio, 1603), I wanted to emphasize Caravaggio’s capacity to capture a seemingly spontaneous moment, and reinforce the timeless beauty achieved using an artists controlled technique of painting. The digital camera is a metaphor for our disposable society, often used with casual indifference, resulting in the stored images never being viewed again. A hooded top: worn by so many today, they are mass-produced in the millions, many discarded in a relatively short time. Contrast this with the seventeenth century, when everything was made by hand. Consider the longevity of a painting from that era, which is treasured and passed down over centuries. When Marco da Silva modeled for me in Berlin, he had begun preparing for another tour with Kylie Minogue. He told me about the isolated existence of touring, which inspired Untitled 19/09 (after Caravaggio, 1596; featuring Marco da Silva). Caravaggio’s young men are a metaphorical offering of close and trusted friends.
18 — CLASSIC DE NOVO
20 — CLASSIC DE NOVO
22 — CLASSIC DE NOVO
26 — CLASSIC DE NOVO