Big Rock Candy Mountain: Amy Joy Watson

Amy Joy Watson’s new world order is a little less lonely than her original outposts, heralding a shift in her practice that celebrates creation itself as geographical journey. The artist has loosened the earthbound shackle and floated off into a troposphere filled with glitter and gobstoppers where gravity has better things to do than hang around.

There is something genius about Watson and it’s hard to fathom that she graduated from art school only a few years back. It seems Watson has traversed every inch of the universe in her twenty-something years and has kindly come back to tell us what this world is made of. Somehow, I imagine this artist in her studio like a magician, sitting cross-legged on the floor casting works/spells into the atmosphere, and for some reason this seems more plausible than the reality of stitching together pieces of balsa wood. Though, I realise that the maker’s hand is undeniably present in these works, my mind seeks to push this knowledge to a deeper recess, preferring to collude with enchantment instead.

The intimacy and tenderness Watson creates from such hardened and often geometrical materials and aesthetics begs applause. The works appear as though they might have been soft once-upon-a-time, languishing in her hands until they see the light and are cooled and petrified by their new surroundings. I feel I am privy to some new landscape, or perhaps it is ancient, nevertheless it seems I am intruding upon their party and when I vacate they might continue with their games — spinning, synthesising, morphing, coalescing, exploding or imploding. The delicate touch of watercolours used by Watson on each piece of wood demonstrates careful attention and consideration, her palette every bit as particular as that of a painter. The choice of such a delicate stain on the surface imbeds its stiffness with lucent humanity, and upon closer inspection the bleed of colours only adds to this sensation.

Most of Watson’s work uses balsa wood, watercolour, stitching and glue; a minimal set of options for any studio samurai, yet the artist’s imagination is her secret weapon and by adding a couple of new elements such as helium balloons, glitter, acetate and glow-in-the-dark thread, she has managed to create a minefield of fantasy. A giant, colourful prismatic asteroid erupts and ejects the contents of its equally colourful insides straight up into a stick-like structural mass. Near-by, a balsa bow stands positively prized on its ends defying any number of the rules of gravity. Across the way a pink helium balloon blimps its way towards the ceiling, robust and taut, maintaining a delicate balance for the poised prismatoid below, which touches the floor with a single pink point. Further on, a bursting balsa clam, blanket-stitched to perfection, lays open, its gobstopper patina tempting you to steal its candied pearl.

In 2009, Watson completed a two month residency at Takt Kunstprokjektraum in Berlin and made the statement: “In my recent art practice I have been thinking about real and imagined worlds co-existing ... Here spaces collide with rock vessels birthing new landscapes and jewels and meteorites cracking open to reveal magical worlds within … In these worlds, the slick and plasticised qualities of contemporary society are erased and replaced with an aesthetic reminiscent of aged photographs or shots from a 1940s set of encyclopaedia (rich resources for me). This aesthetic, in combination with delicate hand-stitching and slow-made segments of finely cut balsa, suggests a nostalgic re-valuing of customs and pastimes from our times past.”

Overall, Watson’s work generates an unending sense of wonder, excitement and inspiration; something that can be difficult to conjure in a post-modern practice, yet for her this seems effortless, natural or even innate. There are no ‘cigarette trees’ or ‘little streams of alcohol’ amongst Watson’s Big Rock Candy Mountain, but the tantalising trip is worth it just the same.

CACSA Project Space, Adelaide 27 June – 8 July 2011

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