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Crossing Currents: The Synergy of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Ouattara Watts
Opening on March 30 and on view through June 6, 2004, the Hood Museum of Art exhibition Crossing Currents: The Synergy of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Ouattara Watts presents a series of mixed-media works by Côte d'Ivoirian artist Ouattara Watts that reflects Watts's friendship with the well-known African American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. This exciting series explores Watts's personal negotiations with multicultural identity and transnational exchanges. The fusion of cultural influences in his work offers audiences a unique opportunity to trace the movement of ideas across the physical and ideological ocean between the west coast of Africa and the East Coast of the United States -- ideas that made waves in the 1980s New York art scene and influenced the visual language of contemporary American art by bringing together philosophical and spiritual themes formerly isolated by their geographic and cultural distance.
Both visually and ideologically, Crossing Currents harnesses the energy generated by the intellectual synergy between Basquiat and Watts and challenges audiences to explore ideas about cultural exchange within the global world in which we live. (right: Ouattara Watts, Untitled, 2003, Mixed Media, Courtesy of the artist)
Born in 1957 and raised in both the traditional and the urban environments of Côte d'Ivoire, Ouattara Watts moved to Paris in the late 1980s to study at the L'Ecole des Beaux Artes, where he met Jean-Michel Basquiat at an exhibition opening in January 1988. Impressed by the dynamic power of Watts's paintings, Basquiat convinced Watts to move to New York. Through their shared interest in African culture, philosophy, spirituality, and the transnational experience, their friendship flourished until Basquiat's premature death in August 1988, an event that transformed Watts's artistic work and identity.
After losing his friend, Watts began to move away from transparent African expressionism and toward an opaque, international style reminiscent of Basquiat's own work. He filled his large-format paintings and drawings with cryptic ideograms, multicultural religious symbols, numeric and scientific equations, and floating abstractions. Bringing together his African background and his Western experience, Watts's paintings juxtapose materials that reference both worlds. At times he layers the canvas with Western and Eastern objects, mementos, and materials that contrast with other organic materials he uses to evoke the earth of his homeland. Together, these visual elements combine to fill Watts's compositions with multiple meanings that resonate with his personal responses to the broader social, cultural, spiritual, and historical convergence of ideas that characterizes his global environment.
Crossing Currents initially invites-perhaps even provokes-visitors to read Watts's works using the vocabulary of their own worldview. It also challenges them to explore Watts's imagery through the unique visual language that he weaves together out of images, symbols, and text to provide a medium for the synergy of cross-cultural ideas.
New Art Now
This exhibition is offered as part of New Art Now, the Hood's ongoing focus on contemporary art in 2004. Artists have always struggled to represent their visions of their times, lives, and surroundings. As a result of these struggles, art can connect us with the experiences of others and even bind us as a community. The exhibitions included in New Art Now continue in that spirit, as the Hood community explores contemporary art and society worldwide. A special reading area for New Art Now has been generously provided by Pompanoosuc Mills.
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