Private, Hidden Realms
The Contemporary Fine Art of Heather Watts
“…to him the wall / That sunders ghosts and shadow-casting men / Became a crystal, and he saw them thro’ it, / And heard their voices talk behind the wall, / And learnt their elemental secrets, powers / And forces;”
–Alfred Lord Tennyson
Heather Watts · September 2018
From 2012 to 2015 I finished almost no artwork. Day to day life was filled with the illness and loss of my father, the grieving process and my own health struggles. When I finally returned to art in early 2016 it was to find that these experiences had changed me so much that I no longer identified with the story-telling painting style I was known for.
Tentative first steps and new artistic experiments eventually led me down two very different artistic paths, the first being a traditional studio practice in mixed media drawing, painting and (as yet unfinished) sculpture.
The work that has developed out of this practice has been themed around the secular afterlife, and as much as it’s a response to the loss of my father, it’s even more a response to the void in how modern culture treats dying and the afterlife. We have no narrative for the afterlife, no imagery to represent it (beyond the classic figure-silhouetted-in-front-of-a-bright-light) and no rituals around the moment of a person’s passing.
For someone navigating the death of a loved one without the benefit of religious faith or links to traditional culture, this void it can feel like an endless chasm. My work around the afterlife is about crossing that chasm. It’s about beginning to patch some of the holes modern culture, not with a singular narrative around dying and the afterlife, but with imagery that leaves itself open to many narratives, or even any narratives, including the beliefs that the afterlife can only ever be unknown or even that there is no afterlife at all.
I think one place–maybe the last place–where we can address big questions like this is through the arts. Art isn’t expected to be rational and objective like science, private like religion, or efficient like capital. In a strange way, art acts as a sort of loophole in the linear, material, scientific world we Westerners like to pretend we inhabit. Like the crystal wall in Tennyson’s poem, art lets us traverse things that are otherwise blocked, giving us space for quiet introspection amidst the cult of materialism and busyness that otherwise surrounds us.
The images shown above are some of the first experiments in what I hope will eventually be a large series of work.