Described as everything from neo-expressionist to primitive pop, Cote d’Ivoire-born artist Ouattara Watts’s expressive finger-and-brush painted collage works will be on display starting tomorrow at a space in the West Village (buzz door 37E at 560 Washington Street for entry). The show, Ouattara Watts: Vertigo will feature around 20 new works, each a primal exploration borne out in graphic shapes, colors, text, swirling digits, with no sense of resolution. The title seems entirely apropos.
“For me, all of life is a series of encounters,” says Watts. “From life, to art, to love, to work. This exhibition expresses my view of these encounters through my painting. If there is no shock and no meeting, there is no vertigo.”
For Watts, one of his most life-changing encounters took place in 1988 during his “useless” training at Paris’s L’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, where he met famous artist and soon-to-be mentor Jean Michel Basquiat. Under his tutelage, Watts quickly established himself as one of the seminal contemporary African artists to hit the New York scene. In his 53 years, he has shown at the Gagosian, New Museum, Whitney, as well as all over the world, from South Africa to Japan—but this latest exhibition will mark his first major show in New York City in more than five years.
“My work develops as I investigate and deepen my understanding of the world,” he says. “Today I focus on the dimension of vertigo. Quite a contradiction, don’t you think?”
Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, who is presenting the show as part of his ongoing series of fashion-week exhibitions, aims to introduce Watts to a broader audience. “Art openings should be more accessible, and it is easier to target these crowds when they are already in town for an international event.”
His decision to work with Watts, however, was far less calculated. “The history behind each piece and the time that goes into each is inspiring,” he says. “I often make these decisions with heart, and I really believe in the work Ouattara is putting forth.”
Ouattara Watts: Vertigo will be on display from February 8-19.