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Inhabitation at Collective studio

Soft surface and depth in Watson’s Inhabitation

Large paintings on both paper and canvas consist of smudgy yet subtle build ups of filmy translucent layers. Amanda Watson’s solo exhibition, Inhabitation showed from the 11-13th September in Collective studio and gallery, Hamilton. Using a dry brush to scuffle lightly across the surface of the works, the result is ambient and smokey, with shapes remaining soft and indistinct, but with depths of colour and shade existing within each form.

Collective studio is a tucked away pearl within the growing art scene in Hamilton city. Situated up a narrow flight of stairs on Victoria street (above where Browsers bookstore was previously), is a beautiful old house repurposed as artist studios. Watson’s exhibition started within her studio spilling out into the foyer and hallways. Viewing her works within this communal studio space was inviting and homely, away from the antiseptic atmosphere of white cube galleries.

Watson’s process consists of a preliminary background of ink, charcoal, and compressed pigment scribbled to give depth, followed by thin multiple layers of paint. Lastly, by adding paint inside taped off areas, Watson creates formalist triangular rays which incise each work with their crisp edges.

Hung in a small hallway off the foyer were close up photos from a scrap metal yard, showing textured layers of springs and metal filings, with the same zips or rays collaged on top. These act as concept drawings, used to create the compositions for her paintings, while also existing as works in their own right.

In another studio room, were several experimental works constructed out of paper. Several were hung sculptures, shaped in plain white paper, producing folds and ridges similar to clouds, avalanches or mountain peaks, or the erotically charged petals of O’Keefe. Another features a canvas stretched over a wooden frame, taut and glossy with rabbit skin glue. These white works hang over the internal windows, allowing you to view the floating framed shapes from the foyer.

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Three large scale paintings were displayed within her studio, and explore boundaries of interior and exterior, body and physical space, landscape and cityscapes. Each revealed a subjective response to external factors and interrogates what constitutes a person’s physical existence. Watson travelled for 7 months, backpacking with her family and following back streets and alleyways in new cities worldwide (1). The sharp contrasts of light and shade, small alcoves and zips of light between buildings permeate back through these works.

They appear like Turner’s skies, cut away from the lower landscape aspects of his work. Here, light and shadow flicker in a complex choreography over the surface, recalling works such as Turner’s Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, where sky, land and sea become indistinguishably whisked together.

Watson’s largest works were the most successful in realising the tension between surface detailing and brushwork, and the illusion of depth created by darker translucent layers. With several of her smaller works, including the photographs, the eye drifts over the surface – here, the viewer is drawn into the large forms and variety of patterned techniques. This large format lent itself more to the slow gradations of chiaroscuro than the smaller works, engulfing the viewer with the interplay between light and dark, surface and depth, allowing the viewer to be lost in the larger pools of shade. The flickering, almost vibrating charcoal lines and brush strokes creates an emotive response to these works. The abstract nature of these larger paintings eliminate the representational, and instead allow for a subjective response to the detailing, forms and the internal space created within the works.

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It’s not only Watson’s experience of these physical spaces that is evident in her works but also the motion of her body as she reached and stretched to do the painting itself. Displayed next to her brushes, palettes and paints, the works invite scrutiny of the individual brush strokes. Altogether, these works are as much about the documentation of experience itself, as the physical documentation of Watson’s own bodily motions.

Ellie Lee-Duncan


  1. Interview with the artist, Hamilton, 9th September, 2016.
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