Raymond Watson


Raymond Watson - Sculptor

Statement

My work continues to be a synthesis of influences, born as much out of process as concept. There is a developing synthesis between line, space, volume and tension; evolving from the movement and rhythm of the people seen in my daily life. The works thematically explore the human condition, the paradoxes of the society and the contradictions very often inherent in the individual.

Biography

Born in London in 1954, and schooled at Kingston College, Jamaica 1966- 1972, he attended the Jamaica School of Art from 1977-1981, graduating with a Diploma in Sculpture.

Raymond has lived and worked in Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and London, and has exhibited in the Caribbean, The United States, South America and England. He mounted public sculptures in London, Kingston, and Port of Spain, as well as being represented in private collections world wide. In 1990 he along with Brother, Basil Watson mounted “Sculpture in the Park” an outdoor exhibition of life-size sculptures in New Kingston Jamaica.

Visiting Raymond Watson in Jacks Hill June 2008

…I’m an artist, I’m ridiculous, I have faith, I know there’s a buyer out there, they just haven’t seen it yet…

I hadn’t seen Raymond since he returned to Jamaica about 8 years ago; so on a two week holiday to Jamaica in June 08 with Fowokan, we were determined to see him before returning to the UK. He arranged to meet us at Barbican (in St Andrews) as the road to his studio/home had been washed away by the last hurricane and he thought we would get lost if travelling on our own. We met him at a petrol station, looking wizened, smaller in height and build since I last saw him and with a mature confidence that I hadn’t seen before.

Raymond was absolutely right, without him leading us, we would never have found his studio. He drove fast and fearlessly, like many of the drivers we had encountered on the island. We followed him up the steep, narrow and winding Jacks Hill Road. We climbed and climbed until all I could see were stunning views of Kingston harbour, the University of the West Indies at Mona, Mona Reservoir and the occasional house or local shop. The final climb led to a piece of land perched at the very top of a hill on Jacks Hill where two buildings were located a safe distance apart. One was Raymond’s studio and the other his landlord’s family home.

As I walked down the few steps which led to Raymond’s studio, I was met by the sculpture of a proud-looking, handsome male, oblivious to his nakedness, in a pose of pride and confidence. I learned later from Raymond that he had sculpted the piece for the entrance to a bauxite company building but one of the board members had objected to walking past a naked man each morning she went to work. I wonder if the same objection would be raised if it was one of Rodin’s handsome nudes.

The front of Raymond’s studio is filled with his mainly welded-steel sculptures; they intermingle so naturally with the flowers, fruit and vegetables which he grows with much care. Even the pots which house some of his orchids and shrubs are designed with welded steel and stones. He said I live with foliage and greenery, it’s always a part of what I do…watching things grow is quite fascinating! He was so at ease and full of energy among the lush vegetation, high up above Kingston in Jacks Hill.

As I set foot into the building, I stepped into his studio, at first it looked more like a gallery, with pieces positioned on different levels, against various backgrounds and on a range of ‘plinths’/ shelves, making it easy for the viewer to observe all at once as well as see each piece with ease. Then I noticed that it was a fully functioning workspace with moulds, sculpture tools, art materials, unfinished pieces, lamps etc all the sorts of paraphernalia associated with his sculpture-making using welded-steel, modelling and carvings.

I was struck by the change in Raymond’s welded-steel pieces; they were all so much bolder than I recalled of his pieces that I saw in the UK. They powerfully conveyed movement and ‘attitude’; expressiveness that made these steel, inhuman pieces, so human. As a non-artist, I admire art with high levels of craftsmanship, I’ve always thought of Raymond’s work in that way. But seeing his work this June, I became emotionally connected with it because it has moved me beyond the technical aspects. He warms the coldness of the steel. This has set me off thinking about his process and how it applies to life – how easy it is to see the surface and not look beneath…people we avoid because of their appearance, ‘race’ or class… For me his pieces tell stories of ordinary Black people/ Jamaicans, overcoming hardship, struggle, stereotypes and suchlike who emerge triumphant.

In the garden at the back of Raymond’s studio are more sculptures and plant pots and another studio, semi open-air where very large pieces of work were in progress. From this position you could see way into the expansive green of Jacks Hill and across to Kingston Harbour with all the areas in between such as Beverley Hills, Long and Dallas Mountains even Port Royal and Normal Manley International Airport.

Sitting in his garden, talking to Raymond was incredible. On the one hand it was so idyllic: listening to birdsong, crickets scratching their legs, cicada making deafening screeching sounds every twenty minutes or so, eating plums and berries fresh off the trees and feeling the cool breeze on a very hot June day. On the other hand it was inspiring and painful, hearing Raymond’s struggle, struggle as a teacher of art with a clear uncompromising philosophy within a global art world which celebrates ‘throw away’ and non-technical art. He had lost several pieces of sculptures/ drawings some had gone ‘missing’ after exhibitions; others were blatantly stolen from public spaces. If that was not bad enough, to add to his woes, the level of interference he experienced whilst producing commissioned works of art was a tremendous source of frustration for Raymond.

And of course the occupational hazard of selling one’s art, in Jamaica as with anywhere else in the world, the people with money and Black people in particular are not easy to part with money when it comes to art. He was stoical about making a living from art: selling art is a hard uphill battle,…Jamaican collectors are dying out or not collecting any more. We don’t have new collectors. People with money buy Fajeros, BMWs, they spend millions in Miami [and shop] for clothes in Italy, but if you ask them for $750,000 [Jamaican] for a piece of sculpture…!

We shared hours talking about the UK, global issues but mainly about Black people and the role of (or lack of) art in our lives. Raymond laughed as he talked about what he learnt about himself when he lived in the UK: the crazy things you do as a sculptor, you go to England and you have £200 and you spend £120 paying rent because you need a space, you need a studio to work, it’s absolute insanity! What living in London really taught me was that my work is really heavily tied to Jamaica, no matter where I go, no matter how far away it is.

I left feeling both elated and humbled to have been able to spend the afternoon with Raymond. But I also left Jack’s Hill and Jamaica, feeling really sad that here’s an artist who is both skilful and original, there are no artists creating work with welded-steel at the level or using the subjects which Raymond produces. His work is collected all over the world and he has exhibited internationally. Shouldn’t he be a national treasure? Certainly a Caribbean treasure!

He is still young, he continues to create and produce art, he teaches a little and struggles financially. This truly inspiring artist should be known and recognised by every Jamaican and made known to all Caribbean nations. We shouldn’t wait until it is too late. Whether we acknowledge Raymond’s work or not, he will continue to create, his determination and self belief is awe-inspiring: My income is so precarious it’s ridiculous, but it’s something [sculpting] I have to do. [I am] trying to do some work, something that will stand around for a little while, trying to be significant, trying to teach somebody that you don’t have to accept the crap that they’ve pushed down your throat…But you know what really gets to me, these are the same battles I was fighting 30 years ago when I graduated from art school, the same battles!

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Dr Margaret Andrews
September 2008

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