Jason Watson is an accomplished visual artist whose extensive resume includes residencies at the Newark Museum, the Lower East Side Printshop, Cooper Union, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. The 34-year-old Lambertville resident works mostly in the realm of drawing and printmaking, but also ocassionally does larger installations.
Day job(s): Mostly teaching and design work -- however I have also done all the standard day jobs (waiting tables, etc.) and a few not-so-standard ones (working as a veterinary assistant in an animal hospital, for example).
What's the worst or most interesting thing that's happened to you at work?
Watching a walrus masturbate.
I kid you not.
For three years, I worked for the Exhibit and Graphic Design department for the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City. I was responsible for graphics and sign repair at the New York Aquarium on Coney Island. One of their largest exhibits is the Sea Cliffs exhibit, which has several walruses on display both above the water and below. Shortly after I began working there, Iveq, the male Walrus in the exhibit, started to reach maturity and was discovering his sexuality, so to speak. One day as I was walking through the Sea Cliffs exhibit checking on a bathroom sign that needed repair, I glanced over to the walrus tank and caught Iveq in a not-so-private moment. It was one of those sights that alters your reality, I knew after seeing it I would never be the same again. Later, word got out about the Iveq spectacle and the NY Aquarium was voted “Best Place to Watch a Walrus Masturbate” by the Village Voice. We were so proud.
Does work ever conflict with your art?
Time is a precious commodity, but aside from that teaching and design work really feed my creativity in the studio.
Do you have health insurance?
I am insured, but only thanks to my partner Brian who, thankfully, is not an artist and works for a software company that provides partner benefits. I have been back and forth with insurance over the years, depending on current jobs and circumstances. In general I think that having a partner makes any job, not just being an artist, more manageable. It gives you someone else to fall back on financially and emotionally.
Who are the three people you'd most like to have at one of your shows, in terms of helping your art career?
1. Curators from small art museums outside of the New York area.
2. New art buyers who are trying to start a serious collection.
3. Mary J. Blige, just because I love Mary J. and it would be so random and amazing if she showed up at one of my openings.
If Wal-Mart approached you about using your work in an ad, for a large sum, would you do it? Where do you personally draw the line?
This is a tough question for me, as I have worked as a graphic designer for several years. I see my design work as a legitimate extension of my studio practice. I have made good graphics that stand alone as solid design and bring formal and conceptual knowledge back into my drawings and prints. So I don’t draw much of a hard line between fine art (drawing and printmaking) and applied art (graphic design) in the first place.
That said, I am not too keen on Wal-Mart as a fair and responsible business model (I don’t shop there myself) so I would be a bit leery of their interest in using my work for their advertising. However, Wal-Mart’s choice of one of my drawings of bizarro heads and illegible text would be so surreal an advertising choice that I might just accept for the novelty of it.
And furthermore, on the note of selling out in general: Someone once told me that you should never be ashamed of doing whatever job you feel necessary to provide for your basic physical needs. I believe that, and support any artist -- or anyone else for that matter -- who has the gumption to go out and make a living on a daily basis without doing harm to anyone else in the process. We live in an economic reality and artists do best when they engage with, question, and comment on that reality rather than try to avoid it.
Any additional thoughts on the conflicts and intersections of work and art?
Sure. Every artist in our society has to lead a double life. Regardless of whether you are juggling part-time jobs, children, significant others, or just social obligations, we are all caught in the vicious cycle of needing to fill several roles at the same time. As time goes on, and I get used to this double artist’s life, I have become much more mature in how I jump back and forth between my time spent as an artist in the studio and everything else. Occasionally I get so busy with teaching and such that two or three weeks will pass in which I only make a few marks on paper or polish a copper plate for etching. But I can then balance that with four or five day studio stretches where I turn off the cell phone, ignore the e-mail, and get completely embedded in my studio practice.
I used to think that, if possible, I would spend all my time drawing. Now I realize that I actually need time away from the work, so that when I return to it I am all the more charged and energetic.
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Day Job is a weekly column examining the contradictions, conflicts and convergence between work and art.