“Avanguardia” is the culmination of artist Lisa D. Watson’s life’s work to date.
From the moment her older sister took her to her first museum in Akron, Ohio, at 10 years old, she knew she’d found her tribe. Standing among so many cultured adults and listening to them discuss the art all around her, she knew as a child she had found her calling. Ever since then, she’s spent her entire adulthood chasing the dream of having a proper museum exhibition.
“Avanguardia” is a large-scale, multi-medium exhibition by Watson that opens with an artist talk and reception at 6 p.m. Nov. 16 at Telfair’s Jepson Center. It’s the realization of Watson’s lifelong ambition and explores themes that have been present in her work throughout her career. It also represents the beginning of a new phase for her, from part-time artist to a potential full-time artist, as the Telfair show coincides with her recently acquiring representation by Imlay Gallery in Montclair, New Jersey, where she will have a solo show with new works next March. That same month she will also be part of the Art on Paper fair at downtown Manhattan’s Pier 36 in New York City.
“I’m beyond ecstatic,” says Watson. “My dream has come true. I hope it will bring other opportunities.”
Watson has had a fulfilling career in many ways. She spent a large portion of her life in Los Angeles, where she worked in the film industry for many years. She’s been in a number of significant art exhibitions over the years, including here in Savannah. She’s also had success as a professional gardener, which has been her part-time gig while she creates her art.
But all along, she’s had the persistent feeling so much of her creative energy has been spent on other people’s visions and aspirations. “Avanguardia” represents Watson’s own personal vision writ large on the walls of the Jepson Center.
“I appreciate this so much,” says Watson. “I’ve had really amazing jobs in the film industry and working with Bill Viola, the digital film artist. Those were great, amazing jobs, but all along it was everybody else’s dreams.”
“Avanguardia” is the most ambitious personal project Watson has embarked on to date. The sprawling, large-scale installation reflects Watson’s attitudes toward the natural world and our constructed surroundings. Watson is an environmentalist with an ambivalent view of the man-made landscape that’s encroaching on every last inch of the plants and animals she loves.
She’s also an artist with an affectionate eye toward the complexities of human ingenuity, particularly the architecture of bridges, which feature prominently in her work. The resulting immersive exhibition is a nuanced meditation on human progress and environmental consciousness.
While there’s obviously a strong narrative thread in the show, Watson was careful not to beat any viewers over the head with loaded messages.
“Of course I want people to have their own story when they come out of it,” explains Watson. “I want everybody to come out of it going, hmm. I want it to be their own story.”
As with all of her work, Watson used mostly reclaimed and recycled materials for her creations. Those materials figure strongly in the story she’s trying to convey.
“I’ve been using reclaimed materials my entire career, but no one ever knew,” says Watson. “They didn’t know why I was doing that and I think this show is also a narrative about that … It really just comes down to, how do I tell the story? But I also want a beautiful piece of artwork as a result.”
The inspirations for “Avanguardia” range from Watson’s concern about the tree canopy in Chatham County, to the destruction of native plant and animal species, to the memory of the suburb that obliterated her playground woods growing up.
The band Arcade Fire is also one of her most prominent muses and she points out one lyric that has resonated with her for years from the song “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” The chorus of that song practically sums up her feelings behind her exhibition:
“Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small,
That we can never get away from the sprawl,
Living in the sprawl,
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains,
And there’s no end in sight,
I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights.”
“Avanguardia” is part of Telfair’s #art912 initiative and will be on view through March 11. The artist talk and reception on Nov. 16 is free and open to the public.
Kristopher Monroe is a writer documenting the intersection of art and community. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @savartscene.