Ouattara Watts

(b. 1957) Ivory Coast/ USA

The Story

Ouattara Watts foresaw “globalization” long before the word became trendy in pop culture. Combining cross-cultural imagery is an expression of his personal life. Born in Adidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Watts moved to Paris to attend L’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, then relocated to New York in 1989. Living in three countries on three continents, the bilingual artist continually pays homage to his Ivoirian ancestry as well as his Parisian and New York inspirations.

From early on in his career Watts has taken an interdisciplinary approach to his work, adding elements of musical composition (he’s a jazz enthusiast), even topography, applying drawings and collage to canvas. Identified by many as a neo-expressionist artist, Watts’ large-scale art works explore aspects of mysticism, and, as Watts explains: “My work is connected to mathematics and alchemy, not religion. I am interested in spirituality.”

In Paris, Watts met Jean-Michel Basquiat at an exhibition opening in January 1988. Basquiat was impressed by Watts’s paintings and convinced Watts to move to New York City. In the 2010 documentary by director Jean-Michelle Vecchiet, called “Basquiat, Une Vie”, we see Watts in his studio, working and talking about Basquiat.

Watts lives and works in New York City. He has a distinguished and dynamic international exhibition record whose latest solo show, titled Project Room, is a three-piece site-specific exhibition at The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), in part, a collaboration between Watts and FIAF’s Director of Visual Arts, Antoine Guerrero (formerly at MoMA PS1): a series that represents the multifariousness of Francophone culture.

The subdued palette is a departure from Watts’ usual swathes of neon. Hints of color are delicately applied to a mainly earthy-toned backdrop with spatial parameters drawing viewers into the gallery without overwhelming them. Watts explains, “I don’t want people to panic with three big paintings in the same small room. I want to give people the chance to interpret, but I don’t want to give them all the keys. It’s time for artists to help people think more deeply about the future.”

He has exhibited at MoMA PS1, the Whitney Biennale, and the New Museum in New York, and at the Hess Art Collection, Paarl, South Africa; Magazzino d’arte Moderna, Rome, Italy; Galeria Leyendeker, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canay Island, Spain; Mike Weiss Gallery, New York, NY; The Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; Marella Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy; Leo Koenig, New York, NY; Baldwin Gallery, Aspen, CO; The Kemper Museum, Kansas City, MO; Gagosian Gallery, New York, NY; and, Galerie Boulakia, Paris, France.