Lee Sharrock In Conversation With Amanda Watt

Amanda Watt

I caught up with artist Amanda Watt to talk with her about practice and her upcoming exhibition “Release” with Varvara Roza Galleries and K. Nicholls Contemporary at Gallery Eight in London. This is Watt’s first large-scale solo show in the UK since the 1980s, and it features a combination of her interior, landscape, and female form paintings to create a brave and beautiful display.

Amanda Watt

All pieces in the show were painted after she moved back to Northern Ireland from the USA, and they carry a new level of sensibility and expression. In this interview, we learn more about Watt’s practice, the works featured in the new exhibition and what visitors can expect to experience.

Lee Sharrock: Where did the exhibition title ‘Release’ come from – is it related to your return to your birthplace of Ireland after almost 3 decades in the USA? 

Amanda Watt: The title of the show stems from a lot of different places. Mainly, ‘Release’ refers to the huge outpouring of energy and emotion I have put into each and every piece in the exhibition. I really have left everything out there on the canvas, and it is my rawest, most expressive selection of paintings yet. There have been tears and laughter; anger and pain; joy and jubilation, and I have broken out of my usual confines and beyond my normal comfort levels.

But to some extent, yes, ‘Release’ is also about coming home: leaving behind the memories and history of the my time in the USA – both positive and negative – and from all the tensions associated with relocating. 

It is also about the release from the mental and physical confines of the COVID-19 restrictions in the UK. I originally had a solo show planned for May 2020, but this was rescheduled time and again due to the pandemic, and over time gradually morphed into this exhibition. So when I was talking to my agent, Katharine, about the most recent iteration and how we both felt about the show  post-pandemic, the title just seemed to fit.

Amanda Watt - The Chair
The Chair
Lee Sharrock: This is your first UK exhibition since the 1980s and your work will be presented by Varvara Roza Galleries and K. Nichols Contemporary.  Are you looking forward to exhibiting in London, and how did you decide on what paintings to present to a UK audience? 

Amanda Watt: I am so excited about exhibiting in London again, although somewhat scared too! As I said, I have left everything out there on the canvas, so in a way I’m feeling rather bare and exposed! I’ve been part of numerous successful group shows at Mayfair and Chelsea galleries, and have exhibited with the Society of Women Artists year on year, but this is my first solo show for quite some time, so obviously a little daunting. 

With the COVID-19 delays I have had a really long time to think about what to present, and the show has grown and changed, but these, I believe, are the best paintings of my career. I worked really closely with my agent as we wanted to showcase the bright and vibrant interior and landscape paintings that garnered much attention in the States, but also those that are more emotionally charged, such as my nudes.We think it’s a great mix!

Amanda Watt - Hollywood Hills
Hollywood Hills
Lee Sharrock: There is a clear lineage to the oeuvre of David Hockney from the bright California palette and playful perspectives found in your paintings, such as ‘Hockney’s View’ and ‘Hollywood Hills’. There’s also an influence of Henri Matisse and Raoul Dufy in your still life paintings that use a Cote d’Azur palette and aesthetic. Did your time in the USA lead to an interest in Hockney and the style of his LA-period paintings? 

Amanda Watt: It’s absolutely down to my time in LA and West Hollywood, but not so much an interest in Hockney (although I do love his work!). It’s more that I was painting at the same time and in the same place as him in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. We had the same influences, landscapes, climate, and to some extent collectors, so it’s no surprise there are similarities in our works. 

 Amanda Watt - Hockneys View
Hockneys View

We also have the same birthday (although a different year of course!) so I do feel we are kindred spirits in some way! I guess the similar playful perspectives are as much from Hockney’s oeuvre as they are an influence from modern art as a whole. The Cubist principles of alternative perspectives and formalist theorie of flattened picture planes are key to my work. With regards to Dufy and Matisse, I do love, and in some ways try to replicate, the Fauvist humour of colour, and the warmth, excitement, and emotion they bring to every piece.

Lee Sharrock: You’ve described yourself as a ‘Fusionist’, meaning that you merge styles that inspire you, while playing with the fusion of East and West. Can you explain further? 

Amanda Watt: The term ‘Fusionist’ came up when I was discussing my work when hanging a show in LA in the late 80s. It just seemed to perfectly describe my work as I am influenced by so many different artists and movements, and use specific principles, colours and aesthetics from each. 

From the West, I play with Cubist multiple perspectives;Fauvist colour; the pattern-making of Gustav Klimt; the decisive curves of Henri Matisse, and the concept of inner feeling over true representation as depicted by the German Expressionists, and later contemporary artists like Rainer Fetting. From the East: Japanese Shunga, woodblock prints and primitivist Russian Lubki, as well as Gauguin’s ‘Orientalist’ depictions of women.

Lee Sharrock: How many paintings will be featured in ‘Release’, and how long have you been making the work for? 

Amanda Watt: There are over 35 pieces in the exhibition, including a number of small works on paper, and some original prints, working again with my friend and master printmaker Pascal Giraudonin California. Everything has been created in the last four years, since being back in Northern Ireland. Some remain from the first iteration of the show in 2020, but I painted many of them during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Amanda Watt - Mindfulness
Lee Sharrock: Where do you paint and what is your process – do you paint from life or photographs, do you sketch then paint or paint direct onto the canvas?  

Amanda Watt: I have a great little stone studio just outside my home in the Dromara Hills. It can get pretty cold in the winter, and roasting in the summer, so there are times I can’t paint in there at all, but I love the solace of it, and the views and surrounding countryside are idyllic. I can head out there first thing and paint until it goes dark with no distractions, no interruptions, and no judgment. It gives me the physical and mental space I need to let my creative juices flow! Although for me, art does not end at the edges of the canvas, it’s the way you live your entire life.

I paint with acrylics as I like the faster pace than oils allow, and I rarely sketch or plan, except for some poses for nudes that make it into my larger pieces. When an idea or feeling strikes I just want to be spontaneous and get everything onto the canvas. After over 40 years of painting I have learnt to trust my instincts and following my intuition, while embracing the ‘happy accidents’ as I call them!

I don’t paint from photographs either – everything is from my memory or imagination. For example, many of the stylised pieces of furniture are remnants of memories of my collectors ‘ Hollywood homes; the fruit bowls and ornaments ones I have owned over the years; and views of hills and oceans those that I have lived with in the past, all merging and evolving in my mind to make new scenes. I draw from the past, but try to make each and every painting new and exciting, both for myself and the viewer. 

Amanda Watt ‘Release’ is at Gallery 8,  Duke Street, St. James’s, Mayfair, London from 22 September to 8 October.




©2022 Lee Sharrock, Amanda Watt