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January 19 – June 23, 2007 Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art

“Don’t Fence Me In” The Art of Daniel Watson


“DON’T FENCE ME IN”: THE ART OF DANIEL WATSON .“I ask only that people recognize what I am now, and what I will be tomorrow.” -Daniel G. Watson, May, 2002

The last thing Daniel Watson would want you to know about him is the first thing that most people find out – that he is incarcerated in the California penal system. What he has done since he got there is the subject of this exhibition. Daniel Gordon Watson (b.1949) was born in Santa Monica, and spent his early childhood in the town of Venice, described as California’s answer to Greenwich Village. “In the 1950s and 60s Venice was a fascinating world ... It had motorcycle gangs, actors, homosexuals, all the races, circus performers, poets, pro-wrestlers, musicians, tradesman

and probably most influential, Beatniks and their Gas Houses (galleries).”1 In grade school, Daniel became engrossed in drawing. But after the 6th grade, he didn’t pick up a pencil again to create art until1992. During the intervening years Daniel married and became a father; he served in Vietnam in the First Cavalry Division; he was shot down in the battle for Hue and was part of the siege of Khe Sann, military operations remembered with pride by the Army. Like many Vietnam veterans, Daniel returned to an America anxious to leave the war

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7 behind. Years later, the horrific images of the war in Bosnia would trigger a flood of Vietnam memories for Daniel. By the early 1980s, Daniel’s life had spiraled out of control, culminating in his being sent to prison and altering his world forever. Cut off from family, Daniel examined his life and began to rebuild, first earning a degree in Social Science from San Jose State University. He writes that after earning his degree, “I had a huge mount of selfconfidence that gave me strength to pick up a pencil again to draw. I have been studying ever since, almost non-stop. Art is constantly on my mind. The child has finally broken free.”2 His earliest works were influenced by the few images to which he had access National Geographic, art instruction magazines and art books. From these publications he learned how to use different art materials and taught himself art techniques. Watson also practiced drawing in the style of other artists to learn technique. Over time he developed his personal style by marrying reality and irony, as is evidenced in his work. He reads widely and agrees with Diego Rivera’s assertion that “art should have a social responsibility.” But he also writes, “Success in here is not success out there – for example, I can never be known out there as an artist, but only as a convict artist.”3 Perhaps this exhibition will prove him wrong.

Daniel G. Watson, in correspondence with author, April 24, 1999. Ibid. 3 Watson, in correspondence with author, December 9, 1999.

8 Daniel has geo-political concerns that he addresses in luminous paintings. Loaded with symbolism and apocalyptic visions of a ruined world, he calls out to us to scrutinize big oil companies, conglomerates and the self-serving rich and powerful who he sees as co-opting and misusing the world’s natural resources. “I try to counter that ‘megarich, one idea-ness’ a little...I think it’s a way of giving back. I’m not discouraged by the size of my resources or my abilities – I believe every step forward counts.”4 In the mid 1990s, Daniel recognized that citrus fruit, with their leathery skin, could be used as raw material for sculpture and he began shaping, cutting, drying and burning the few pieces that came his way. Enjoying the fragrance and pliability, Daniel sculpts the fruit into biomorphic forms, at times carving onto the surfaces symbols reminiscent of indigenous cultures, and other times letting the fruit suggest images and faces. The resulting sculptures exude personality that exceeds their diminutive size. But Watson is most well known for his radiant, colorsaturated portraits of our cultural icons, his closest friends, and of himself. Done in colored pencil, in shades that can stop you cold, the arresting drawings depict individuals who gaze intensely, either inwardly, or at us. For a moment, the brutality that is part of Watson’s every waking hour falls away. It is Daniel’s way of engaging our mutual humanity and his attempt to “let the real person, the real spirit, come out in a meeting of equality with the viewer.”5

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Watson, in correspondence with author, September 29, 1999. Watson, in correspondence with author, January 29, 2000.


1) Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, 2006 Paper pulp on paper 20 x 20 in. Courtesy of the artist

Dwayne, 1996 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 28 1⁄4 x 28 1⁄4 in. Collection of Gary Zickel and Franco Gianni

Surprize (Self-Portrait), 1996 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 26 x 26 in. Courtesy of Phyllis Kind Gallery

2) Roy Lichtenstein, 2005 Prismacolor colored pencil on museum board 20 x 20 in. Collection of Charles Watson

Time is Hard (Portrait of Bob Kerr), 2000 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 22 x 22 in. Collection of Daniel S. Berger and Matthew Piechowski

Gag Me with a Spoon (Self-Portrait), 1996 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 30 x 22 in. Courtesy of Charles Watson

3) Young Truman Capote, 2006 Prismacolor colored pencil on museum board 20 x 20 in. Courtesy of the artist

Rico Suave, 1996 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 29 x 28 in. Collection of Scott and Mary Donaldson

4) Blue James Dean, 2006 Prismacolor colored pencil on museum board 20 x 20 in. Courtesy of the artist 5) Shirley Temple, 2000 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 20 x 22 in. Collection of Robert A. Roth. 6) Smile (Portrait of Rocky Blajos), 1995 Colored pencil on paper 22 x 22 in. Courtesy of Charles Watson 7) No Electric Trollys, 2002 Mixed media on paper 23 x 30 in. Courtesy of Phyllis Kind Gallery 8) Citrus Peel Sculptures Carved, modeled and pressed citrus peels Dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist (Photo by John Faier) On John, 1999 Acrylic on canvas 24 x 24 in. Courtesy of Phyllis Kind Gallery

Self-Portrait #5, 1994 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 25 1⁄2 x 20 in. Courtesy of the artist

Pasha, 1999 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 22 x 22 in. Collection of Gregory and Prudence Heisler

The Irony of Anthropology, Archeology, and Paleontology II, 2003 Mixed media on paper 23 x 39 1⁄4 in. Courtesy of Phyllis Kind Gallery

Dewey President Williams, 1992 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 25 1⁄2 x 20 in. Courtesy of Charles Watson

The World According to Shell, 2005 Acrylic on canvas board 24 x 18 in. Courtesy of the artist

Study of KoKo Taylor, 1999 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 20 3⁄4 x 19 3⁄4 in. Courtesy of the artist

Life for Profit, 2005 Acrylic on canvas board 12 x 9 in. Courtesy of the artist

Jesse Jackson, 1996 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 20 x 22 in. Courtesy of the artist

Untitled (Boot of Uncle Sam), 1994 Mixed media on poster board 30 x 20 in. Courtesy of Charles Watson

Miles, 2005 Indian ink on board 20 x 13 1⁄2 in. Courtesy of the artist

One Brand New Free Marketer, 1995 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 30 x 22 in. Collection of Charles Watson

Green Queen (Marilyn Monroe), 2001 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 22 x 18 in. Collection of Daniel S. Berger and Matthew Piechowski

Urination on Life II, 1998 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 30 x 22 in. Courtesy of the artist

Bo Bo, 1998 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 26 x 26 in. Courtesy of Phyllis Kind Gallery

Untitled (Self-portrait in cell with pink landscape), n.d. Mixed media on paper 19 x 19 in. Courtesy of the artist

Green Devil Ray, 1999 Prismacolor colored pencil on black museum board 22 1⁄4 x 22 1⁄4 in. Courtesy of Phyllis Kind Gallery

Untitled (Self-portrait in cell with green landscape), n.d. Mixed media on paper 19 x 19 in. Courtesy of the artist

Life in the Wild, n.d. Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 30 x 22 in. Courtesy of the artist Progress II, 1995 Prismacolor colored pencil on paper 22 x 30 in. Courtesy of Charles Watson Unless otherwise noted, photography by William H. Bengtson

Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art 756 N. Milwaukee Avenue Chicago, IL 60622 312-243-9088 Fax 312-243-9089 www.art.org

Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11 am-5 pm Thursday, 11 am-7:30 pm


Intuit: "Don’t Fence Me In”: The Art of Daniel Watson" Show