artist oliver watts

Oliver Watts was a founding member of the satirical news team The Chaser as well as one of Sydney's leading galleries for emerging artists, Chalk Horse Gallery. He has a PhD in Art History and Theory from the University of Sydney, and teaches at the UNSW's prestigious College of Fine Arts. Oliver recently held the exhibition I am Tristan Tzara at Chalk Horse. And he recommends some great books.

Which five words best describe you?
Bookish, imaginative, interested, analytical and distracted.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? I am not sure that art is a career or whether it ever actually starts; it seems more of a vocation to me. My friends remind me that even at high school I took art and art history very seriously. My approach has been to slowly build the practice through university, through research and studio work. Knocking around ideas with friends is also a good way to tighten up your ideas and the tautness of exhibitions.
What's the best lesson you've learnt along the way? Art can be slow. It doesn't need to be particularly fashionable or "contemporary". You can learn as much from a Roman effigy as you can from Marc Quinn, or from Richard Long as you can from Andy Goldsworthy.
What's your proudest career achievement? I was happy this year with the October edition, Art in America review by Roger Boyce for my Melbourne show, at Helen Gory. Other than that if I give a good lecture or if I can help someone with their own work, I am proud of that and I still get a buzz from that.
What's been your best decision? I think starting Chalk Horse Gallery with Jasper Knight, Dougal Phillips and David Teh was a good decision. It allowed us all to take control over decisions early on, both in terms of curating artists and theoretical direction. It has been a very supportive team where we bring different strengths to the table. It has been a lovely journey to take with such close friends and it still throws up surprises.
Who inspires you? Many of the people I work with (and for) at the university inspire me. It is lovely to be surrounded by so many great scholars and artists who have committed their working lives to art and ideas. I am sure I would embarrass them if I named them, but they know who they are. Most recently Tim Gregory and Toby Schmitz who collaborated with me on this last show, I am Tristan Tzara, really inspired and provoked me through this latest body of work. What are you passionate about? I feel passionately that aesthetics (be that art and architecture, music or poetry) is an important way of being and thinking through issues and problems. Sometimes the irrational or the left of field, is the best way to approach complex things. Not to mention I love the seduction of the beautiful and the strange, who doesn't?
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? I don't really believe in heros in that way so I won't answer that question. My book shelves are full of great thinkers and I respect their ideas; I don't know if I would like to MEET them though. I like catching up for drinks with friends (cocktails?). On top of that whether you are Plato or a stranger, I think romantically I guess, that everyone has a story to tell, or a passion for something be it ballet or rugby league, which is always fun to tap into.
What dream do you still want to fulfil? I still have a great hope that I can do some good work and be a good person.
What are you reading? At the moment I am reading, Roland Barthes, The Language of Fashion, which is a really insightful (and fun) collection of essays on fashion, its history, its "meaning" and how it connects to modernity. If you liked The Devil Wears Prada, then this is the book that explains what was going on (you can only get the book through the Power Institute, Sydney Uni). In art history I am reading WJT Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? which is a great book on visual culture. It starts from the idea that pictures are actually almost like people, or have their own subjecthood which we respond to (for example like a child's doll – is an adult response to a painted image any different??). Louise Fox's version of the Trial at the Sydney Theatre Company was great and Ewen Leslie as Joseph K was awesome; to look at another approach I am reading Harold Pinter's, The Trial, screenplay.

images courtesy of oliver watts

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