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Work / Art

Artist Esther Watson reimagines the flying saucers her dad created as a child

Los Angeles-based artist Esther Watson’s work is inspired by her dad and the giant flying saucers he used to make when she was a child. The artist incorporates those memories into painted and mixed media pieces that are full of charm and nostalgia. “My dad built five large car-sized flying saucers in our front yard when I was growing up in Texas. He thought of them as the future of transportation,” explains Esther. “I thought of them as art when I came across Douglas Curran’s book, In Advance of the Landing. Curran’s photographs documented all shapes and sizes of metal ships and their builders like my dad.”

As a child, the artist’s dad would take her “dumpster diving” and as he searched for recyclable aluminium and flying saucer parts, Esther looked for printer paper to draw on. “The style I have now uses the vernacular of memory paintings, which I began in 2003. My family kept few photos of the saucers my dad built, as we moved often,” she says. “So I began painting from memory, which is challenging because memory is fallible.”

The artist’s most recent works depict sweet-natured, humdrum landscapes that are littered with flying saucers and matchstick-like characters. Esther has a master’s in fine art and an affinity for folk and outsider art, seeing it as a “language of my heritage”. “I look at a lot of Texas memory painters like Velox Ward and Aunt Clara. My house is filled with southern folk art,” she says.

Esther is married to fellow artist and illustrator Mark Todd, who we featured last week for his fake record sleeve designs. The parallels between their work is in the naive execution and the way in which they approach painting as a whole. Like Mark, Esther is “purposely making my work look like I can’t paint". “It’s not easy to do because if it is done wrong, then my work will feel insincere. I leave hints my work comes from an educated place, like the content, balanced compositions and complex colour harmonies,” she says.

Throughout Esther’s work she often paints a variation of the same memory over and over. “Sometimes I paint what the future might have looked like if the saucer was completed. There was no reference to correct my own distorted memory because we moved often and many of our houses were torn down to make room for tract homes. Other times, I paint sort-of-memories to mirror the fuzzy effect of how memories almost feel dream-like, or like family myths,” she explains.

Seeing herself as a “memory painter”, Esther’s work depicts her “stories with an idealised lens” and are an interpretation of her past. “It is funny and cringe-worthy to paint my dysfunctional and eccentric southern childhood as a romanticised memory,” says the artist. “It is also a critique of who is an art world insider and who is an outsider.”

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Esther Watson

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Esther Watson