Van Gogh interpreted the shades and colors of France into genius with paint, Michelangelo sculpted and shaped history with marble, but conceptual artist Nicky Wattsfinds inspiration in plaster, recycled paper, and canvasses sown out of sweaters and old bed sheets.
Nicky Watts, 28, a conceptual artist originally from Massachusetts, entertained countless passerby in San Francisco’s Dolores Park on the 27th with eight massive canvasses, still being painted, laid on the lawn ready to be transformed even further.
Watts’s large and vibrantly colorful cloth canvasses were large-scaled recreations of posters. Each poster pictured recycled-paper sculptures Watts had produced. Her recycled paper sculptures start with a plaster cast of a body part, and then Watts creates a paper sculpture separately that will complement the cast.
Watts said that her pieces had to do with person-to-person interaction but beyond that the project was still finding itself.
“I knew that this was about people from the first cast I ever made and the relationship I made with the first cast wearer, but I didn’t know it would become all of this,” said Watts.
In San Francisco as a part of a three-month residency in the city to work on her projects, Watts worked on these pieces as a part of her East-to-West U.S. tour titled “Planned underground.” Her work is all part of a conceptual art production titled “Wear Recycle.” The name was partially inspired by Watt’s friend Ann Pettit of Suede Studio, a vegan print and web design firm in Vegas.
Wear Recycle refers not only to the recycled nature of her work but also the shedding of negative behaviors within the individual.
Watts encouraged all those who passed by to participate in the collaborative effort of helping her paint the recreations because painting is not her background.
“I learned how to not have complete control because I love when people help,” said Watts. “Most of the screw ups on these pieces have been mine so who am I to tell people they can’t paint, I suck at painting.”
One observer, Tony Lachuev, a San Francisco native, said that her art made him stop in the park and take a moment to ask her all about it.
“It’s cool because I like collaborative art and it’s amazing,” Lachuev said. “I like how it’s out in the open in the park like this and the way Nicky uses this also as a way to meet people.”
The original inspiration for the recycled-paper sculptures came from a photo client in Vegas that wanted to emphasize the green movement and Las Vegas culture. Her first several photo shoots with these sculptures on models would end up being several recycled-paper headdresses inspired by those seen in popular Vegas style.
A majority of her funding is fickle and not always reliable, based almost completely on donations of funds and time. Watts said she never eats out, and depends on the compassion of others to have places to stay while she works on her residency.
Beyond her personal situations, her work materials are often donation-based. All of the canvasses were composed of donated bed sheets, except one made out of donated clothes from Watt’s own closet and sown together by Susan-Torches-Deneau from the Las Vegas company “Altered Nation Designs,” a clothing design company.
Watts depends upon others in many steps of her process, and she has made some bold steps to achieve the assistance of others. Sat Khalsa, owner of the Satori Dance studio in San Francisco and one of Watts’ hosts during her SF performance, remembers meeting Watts at 1:30 a.m. after a dance performance and the third sentence she spoke to him was, “can I sleep on your floor tonight?”
“She is really been an inspiration in terms of courage and facing fears,” Khalsa said. “This is what happens when you trust your path and trust your vision.”
Watts said that she has had a penchant for creating with non-traditional materials since childhood, and didn’t go to an art store until she was in college.
According to her personal Bio, which she had available at the park alongside her workspace, Watts was born in Massachusetts with two siblings, and had a tough childhood, growing up in welfare and getting involved with drugs and alcohol in high school. Watts dropped out of high school, achieved her GED, and left for college in Chicago to escape. After eight years of college in Chicago she held her first show using recycled paper creations inspired by the pregnancy of her sister.
Watts said that art is what drives her life and gives her direction in a chaotic world. She said that she finds herself distracted in any job that doesn’t involve her art, and finds herself bored and not dedicated to any work but her own creations.
“I do this because I’m crazy and if I don’t do it then I wouldn’t know how to communicate with people,” Watts said. “Art is all that keeps me straight, I can’t keep a job down all the time, but this is more than a full-time job to me.”