Through a career traversing West Africa, Europe, and North America, Ouattara Watts has established himself as a contemporary artist whose work knows no boundaries. Buoyed by his friendship and collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Watts' artwork found an international audience and has been exhibited at such high-profile international exhibitions as the Venice Biennale, the Dakar Bienniale, and Documenta.Read More
Watts was born in Abidjan on the Ivory Coast. He moved to Paris in 1977 to study at l'École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, inspired by modern artists like Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, and Amedeo Modigliani to launch his career in the French capital. He first faced difficulty finding gallery representation as an African artist, but eventually found success with notable collectors like Claude Picasso and the designer Andrée Putman.
In January 1988, Watts met Jean-Michel Basquiat at a gallery opening, who encouraged him to travel to New York. The two artists became good friends and worked together until Basquiat's death seven months later. Basquiat organised a New York exhibition for Watts and even took him on a trip to New Orleans, inspired by the two artists' shared interest in their African heritage and spirituality. Watts relocated to New York City in 1989.
Ouattara Watts' canvases are imbued with pan-African aesthetics and imagery, including references to cultures with strong artistic traditions, like Dogon and Senufo, and to Amharic and other African scripts to represent the varied literary traditions across the continent. Nevertheless, Watts' practice transcends exclusive association with any one culture or identity and is informed by his life experience spanning three continents. By creating mystical compositions with found objects, photographs, fabric, and paint on monumental canvas, he imagines the metaphysical world and the spiritual connections that bind us all.
As the artist explains: 'My vision is not bound to a country or a continent; it extends beyond borders and all that can be found on a map. While I use identifiable pictorial elements to be better understood, this project is nevertheless about something much wider. I am painting the Cosmos.' In fact, Watts' practice is much inspired by a phrase of his great-uncle's that he heard as a young child: 'The artist is the guardian of the cosmos.' This cosmological motif is evident in certain imagery in his colourful paintings, including stars, crosses, scientific diagrams, and mathematical equations. Watts' artwork therefore embodies a complex iconography that spans cultures, spirituality, and time.
Ouattara Watts has been the subject of both solo and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include Crossing Currents — The Synergy of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Ouattara Watts, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover (2004); Ouattara Watts: Opere Recenti, Magazzino d'Arte Moderna, Rome (2004); Ouattara Dark Star, Kemper Museum, Kansas City (1996); and Ouattara, University Art Museum, Berkeley (1994).
Group exhibitions include Surface Tension, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2021); African Metropolis: An Imaginary City, MAXXI, Rome (2018); Body of Evidence, and National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C. (2006).__
Watts' work is represented in many important collections internationally, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.; UC Berkeley Museum of Art and Film Archive; Hess Art Collection, South Africa; Fondation Antoine de Galbert, Paris; Fondation Dapper, Paris; Fondacao Sindika Dokolo, Angola; Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation, New Jersey; Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs; and Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover.
Quattara Watts' Instagram can be found here.
Rachel Kubrick | Ocula | 2022