When I first discovered Watson’s artwork on Instagram, I was immediately intrigued by his stunning imagery that embodies unapologetic blackness. He is unafraid to address concerns that may seem too uncomfortable for others, and encourage the necessary dialogue to seek resolutions. I was honored to interview this talented brother, discuss his phenomenal artistry, and witness his wealth of wisdom.
Me: All of your pieces focus on people of the African diaspora, uplifting them as well as confronting social issues. Can you speak on the significance of using art as a form of activism?
Watson: Aside from music, art is extremely powerful in terms of shifting the way people think. Let’s be honest the current image of African-Americans tends to be very negative in terms of their natural hair and who they are in general. The one thing that I try to do with my art is show the beauty and the strength of all people of the African diaspora, not just one type of African people. It’s also powerful because you can directly insert a vision into someone’s eyes. I feel that God gave me this gift to create and any type of art that I want to create, to change the state of black people as a whole in any possible way I can.
Me: Describe your upbringing, where you’re originally from, when you started painting, and family background.
Watson: I’m originally from a very small town in South Florida called Belle Glade. I went to Florida A&M University and then I ended up in Philly. Both of my parents were born in Haiti and they migrated to the United States. I’ve been creating art since I was 2 years old. I remember my mother told me that when I was younger I couldn’t really speak. I was put in a special pre-school for children with special needs because of that I guess. One of the ways they tried to help me communicate was basically through drawing and art so I could express myself. I couldn’t talk until I was 4 years old. I think that’s why it’s very natural for me to not only create art but whatever’s in my mind to just throw those thoughts out there. That situation is basically the foundation of my vivid imagination.
[In regards to Haitian pride]
Watson: Now being a Haitian is cool but back when I was growing up, a lot of people would pick on us and joke about us, they would say some pretty bad stuff. But still we were very prideful in who we were and we weren’t backing down. I feel like that’s where that pride comes from not just from me but from every Haitian. Because we know every Haitian – no matter if I’m in Miami, New York, or Philly, if I see a Haitian, we’ll connect because we all went through that same struggle, that same type of climb up the ladder. We can reach even further into my upbringing.
“But still we were very prideful in who we were and weren’t backing down
I created art all the way up until High School. I used to just doodle in class. At home, I would find some construction paper or an old newspaper and I would constantly draw. I wouldn’t even pay attention in class sometimes because I was always drawing or doodling. In the middle of high school I stopped drawing because I noticed that it was a problem, I couldn’t pay attention in school. I know I needed those grades. So, I basically stopped from the middle of high school up until college. I really started getting back into it in college. As a matter of fact, I started doing the digital art and create my art on Microsoft Paint with a mouse. That’s how I basically did all the art that you see on Instagram. I started doing that in Middle School when my parents purchased a desktop and I was literally just drawing in Paint. I kept doing that until now. I stopped for a very long time but when I graduated undergrad in 2010, that’s when I really started to get back on it and I haven’t let go of it ever since.
Me: You mentioned you went to FAMU, an HBCU.
Watson: Yea man, I got my undergrad and masters from there and I’m actually heading back down there next weekend. I love FAMU!
Me: What did you major in?
Watson: In undergrad I majored in business, and in grad I got my MBA.
Me: What was your experience like attending an HBCU?
Watson: I would consider it the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. That doesn’t mean that everything that happened was positive. But, basically it’s a bunch of us. It was like the movie Boomerang, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it but in the movie it’s a corporate environment and everyone is black and that’s literally what FAMU is. It’s like the world is all black and it’s not just a whole bunch of hood people, it’s a mixture of intellectuals, businessmen etc…you got some hood people too I’m not going to lie but it’s a complete variety of different types of black people. I’ve brushed the shoulders with some of the most intelligent black kids I’ve met in the World at FAMU. I’ll be honest when I first got to FAMU I was very hood but just interacting with people who come from wealthy families or where people are extremely intelligent and you’re partying with these people or these people have become your friends made me realize that it’s not about where you come from it’s about what you want to do with your life.
Me: Describe how you approach your creative process, what’s your ideal environment to bring out your full range of creativity?
Watson: To be 100 percent with you I would answer the second-half of that question first by saying my ideal environment is to be around my people. Right now I don’t actually live in Philly, I live in West Chester, PA where the population of black people is very low. So, this is really my first time not being around black people. I do notice when I go to Philly and I’m around us, then that’s when I find a lot of my inspiration. So the ideal environment is just being around us, that’s basically how I get inspired. I see the different hairdos and whatever the new style that’s coming out. In terms of my creative process, a lot of the time a vision would just pop up in my head and I’ll go to Tumblr or Pinterest and search black women with dreads or black women smiling. I sometimes will also ask someone to pose and I’ll take a picture to use as a reference. Then, I go into Microsoft Paint and draw the line work of the piece and I’ll go in and add the basic colors. Next, I’ll do the shading, which is the longest part of the process.
Me: If you could collaborate with any artist on an upcoming piece who would it be and why?
Watson: Actually, the only artists I really know are those who are prominent on Instagram, definitely would love to collaborate with Markus Prime. There’s another guy named Rob Regis, he’s from Palm Beach, Florida. If I could collaborate with anybody it would definitely be those two guys. I hate to say real artists or Instagram artists, because I feel like we’re currently sitting on the edge of a transition within the norm of things. The Internet and social media is the same type of revolution that happened when the tv, electricity, or the radio came around. Social media is becoming the standard outlet for creatives to get their name out there. Whether a person is using social media or an art gallery to promote their work, an artist is an artist. A lot of people like to downplay those on Instagram. If you have a huge following on social media to me you’re just as well-known as somebody who is out there in art galleries. If you have a very large presence on any type of social media, you’re just as “real” as that gallery artist.
“Whether a person is using social media or an art gallery to promote their work, an artist is an artist
Me: What advice would you give to other artists specifically young black artists trying to transform their passion into a career?
Watson: Just stick with it. The one thing about being an artist, is that your art is basically your baby. And when you put it out in the world and the world rejects it, you feel some type of way. Always try to perfect your craft. Even if nobody is paying attention to it, just stick with it. You might also run into a lot of people who will tell you do it that way or use this. I would say don’t decline all advice but for example, if you create a lot of black people in your art and some people may say you should draw more white people then you’ll get a lot more attention. No, if you like to do black art, do freaking black art if that’s truly what you feel like doing! One experience that I had was when I used to put it out there that I was creating my art using Microsoft Paint. A lot of people were saying ‘you should use Photoshop or some other digital tool’. I didn’t listen to them and just stuck to whatever I was comfortable with and what I liked to use and it worked out for me. No matter what position you’re currently in don’t give up, continuously try to master what you’re doing. Once you’ve mastered what you’re doing it’s going to be dope. Once it becomes dope, you’re going to automatically attract people.
“No matter what position you’re currently in, don’t give up, continuously try to master what you’re doing
Me: Wow, I love that, man. You mentioned that people were telling you to use Photoshop which is the industry standard tool for creatives, however, you’re still using Microsoft Paint but you make it work. Your artwork looks incredible!
Watson: Thank you. I’m not going to lie it takes a long time. It’s an extremely tedious process, but it’s a process that I know what I’m doing with it and that’s why I’m sticking to it. I go to sleep like 3am or 4am in the morning sometimes working on these things, but if you believe in your gift you’ll do whatever to try to make it your full-time gig so stick with it.
Me: What’s your favorite piece you created?
Watson: Something Beautiful and it’s a portrait of this lady who is in a side profile and she has these very long dreads that are sticking up. In the ropes of her dreads is a clansman hanging and she’s smelling these white lilies. That’s my favorite because it’s so subtle yet very powerful. There’s not a lot going on in the picture, it isn’t in your face but IT’S IN YOUR FACE if you know what I’m saying. Even though there’s a clansman hanging in her dreads, she’s still sitting there peacefully smelling the white lilies.
Me: Yea that’s a powerful message…Are there any other artists in your family?
Watson: My sister is definitely a creative but she uses her creative skills as a clothing designer. My dad is a musician; he plays the drums, the piano, and the guitar. I have two cousins that draw, they’re tattoo artists.
Me: That’s a lot of creativity, that’s dope man!
Watson: Thank you.
Me: What was the most challenging piece you’ve done?
Watson: I have a piece called Care Free and it’s this piece where a black man and black woman are holding hands and they’re walking through this mob of white people holding very offensive signs but they’re just walking through carefree. Like everything they’re saying isn’t phasing them. The reason why that piece was so hard was because it just took me so freaking long, I used to grind at it for hours. It took me literally a month and a half to finish that piece!
Me: Describe a time when you experienced a creative block, and how did you overcome it?
Watson: It was like a few months ago when I couldn’t think of anything to create, like the lightbulb had blown out. The way I overcame that was just being around the people. During that time I was a homebody and Philly was an hour away where my friends lived. I wasn’t going out that much. Basically, once I went out more and was being around people and having conversations with them, the creative juices would start bubbling. What I do now is put ideas that pop up into my head into my phone. So, be active and be around different environments because if you continuously just wake up, go to work, and go to sleep in that cycle you’re seeing the same exact things everyday where’s the inspiration going to come from?
Me: How has your artwork shaped you as a person?
Watson: Honestly, it taught me to be more sensitive to the feelings and struggles of women especially black women. Not just looking at everything from a man’s perspective but looking at things through their point of view as well. Also, it taught me to be more conscious of the black struggle. Not only having the Haitian pride but also having that African pride because at the end of the day we’re all African.
Me: What is your proudest achievement so far as an artist?
Watson: Last December, AFROPUNK did a short article and that really happened out of nowhere. I don’t know how they saw my art because I really wasn’t out there like that. The author researched me and wrote a quick article about me. Also, two months ago I participated in my first art gallery. Those two were my proudest moments.
Me: AFROPUNK wow! I definitely have to look that up!
Watson: Yea that was pretty cool.
Me: In your opinion, what do you think can be done to create more opportunities for young black visual artists?
Watson: I was looking at one documentary and it was called Colored Frames and it was a great documentary that talked about black artists. The one thing I took from it was that we have to continuously keep on creating. The art world doesn’t recognize us as black artists whatsoever, because they don’t think our art is good enough. That’s the same way they thought about us as musicians, authors, or writers and as athletes. But as you can see once we got our foot in the door we…
Watson: Exactly! I’ll be honest with you, I don’t have a personal Instagram, so what I do is go through the black art hashtag and just scroll through. I’ll see some of the most creative stuff period. But the art world does not recognize us. You can only shut out brilliance for so long though, sooner or later that brilliant light is going to shine through. Black people almost do not exist within the art world at all in terms of that top-tier. It’s ridiculous because we’re just as creative just as brilliant as those at the top. The main thing we have to do as black visual artists is build our own because they’re not going to open the door for us. We have to build our own door. We have to create our own art world with our own black art critics. Those that review and critique art work on an annual level.
“You can Only Shut out brilliance for so long, sooner or later that brilliant light is going to shine through
Me: Those are some true words right there. I definitely agree with you on all of that especially creating our own spaces.
Watson: Yea definitely.
Me: One of my favorite pieces is Strength. Can you give the readers background information about this piece? What was your vision behind it?
Watson: Well I usually don’t like to give descriptions about pieces because I like to hear other people’s perspectives on them. But with that piece in particular I got inspiration for that piece after the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. The piece revolves around the relationship between the black woman and the black man. It shows how America has a stranglehold on black men, in terms of how economically deprived the black man is, and how the system of America is against the black man in general. That’s the representation of the flag around his neck. The piece also shows the strength of the black woman where she’s holding the world in one hand and she’s balancing these books. I believe these four individual books (The 4 Agreements, Black Feminist Thoughts, The Isis Papers, and The Kybalion) strengthen the mind of the black woman. Therefore, they help her balance the world. Also, at the same time, she is handing the crown to the black man as well. She’s showing him that even though he’s being beat up out here, she’s still reminding him of what he is even though the world is trying to tear him down.
Me: You did your thing on that piece, the fact that there’s so many different ways to interpret it truly speaks to the strength of your artistic abilities.
Watson: Thank you, definitely appreciate it!
Me: What’s your vision for the future in terms of your artistry?
Watson: obviously the monetary thing is what everybody wants. But even beyond that I want it to shift the mindset of people on a mass scale. I want it to inspire something revolutionary. I really want the art to become something that influences all types of people. As black people specifically, we are naturally dope, our culture moves the world.
Me: Thanks so much for your time, I truly appreciate it. It was a great discussion!
Watson: Definitely! Thanks for reaching out!
To purchase Watson’s artwork please visit: https://artofmere.com/index.php/gallery.html