Watson Mere: Deep diving into the mind of an Expressive Genius
Art and Artists come in many forms. Most people will think about a musical artist or a painter by typical word association. However, by reality, art can be really classified as anything one creates that comes from a place of passion or innovation. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, art is “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation” and “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination, especially in the production of aesthetic objects”. Everyone, every day, everywhere, creates art. Whether that’s writing a passionate post on Facebook, or building something from scratch, or even a simple doodle or rhyme out of boredom, by reality, you could classify that as art. However, there are those in the world that take this simple definition and magnify it ten-fold. There are people in the world that transcend that ideology and have the ability to create wonderful masterpieces out of nothing. There are people in the world that don’t just have the talent to make something special, but the gift to be able to move a whole generation of people with their artistic creations. One such man is Watson Mere.
Watson has, over the last couple of years, blown up to be one of the top, young artists in the world. Through relentless expression of the beauty of African culture, female empowerment, political satire, and visual expression of oppression those of color go through on a daily basis, Mere has developed a style unique to the world of art and expression. Mere has created many pieces that invoke emotion and thoughtfulness and wonder. He has created works that help encapsulate the beauty of those many in the world look down upon and discriminate against. He is a premier player in the war on equality, all while masterfully creating art that engulfs the mind with feelings of empowerment and pride, the soul with wonder and thoughtfulness, and the eyes with welling tears and beautiful awe. Not only does he do this for the culture of African society, but he has immense pride as a Haitian-American and creates with his nationality in mind and heart. I recently had the opportunity to speak to Watson one on one. Here is what he had to say to Allo Ayiti.
Hey Watson. Thanks for giving us a bit of your time. Can you give us a background on you as a person and your upbringing? How did you get into doing art?
Watson: “I’m originally from a small town in South Florida, called Belle Glade, Fl. I wasn’t able to talk until the age of four. When I was really young, around the age of two or three, I was in a special school that helps kids who have problems with their development, and I remember the teacher there taught me how to draw so I could communicate better. Eventually I learned how to talk, and I went to a normal school, but just being able to initially communicate with art helped me easily express anything I was feeling.
As I went through school, I always stayed close to the art. Around college and grad school, I kind of got away from it, just because my schedule got very crazy. But when I graduated with my masters, I wanted to commit more of my time and put more of an effort into creating. But even before I finished my masters, I always wondered what direction I did want to go with my art.
I remember during the Treyvon Martin trial, and the verdict of (George) Zimmerman getting off on that, I remember like it was yesterday, the feeling I felt, of something has to be done. I just felt there was something I had to do. How could I express this injustice? And I think at that moment, I thought that this was the direction I wanted my art to go in. A direction of expressing how we feel during these very peculiar, interesting times we live in.
After I graduated with my masters from Florida A&M University, I moved to Philadelphia. I absolutely love Philadelphia. I never to art school, but I felt Philadelphia was an art school for me because I met so many different creatives. That’s where I did my first show. What I needed to set up to do a show. It taught me to run an art business and cultivated the type of art I created just because of the personality of the city. I really love that city. I stayed in Philly for three years and actually two months ago, I moved to Brooklyn, NY, where I’m here now, just to continue to grow as an artist. I don’t want to become complacent in one place.”
As a follow up, you mentioned some of your art address how “WE” feel. Art you talking about WE as in African Americans in society? WE as humans? We as male/female adults? What is your target with that comment?
Watson: “I target that towards anyone within the African diaspora because, although we have labels such as “African American” or “Haitian” or “Jamaican”, those labels were only put on us within the last three generations. At the end of the day, someone might be African American or Haitian, but they may come from the same blood line. So, us being the descendants of those ancestors that were taken away from their homes and mixed up in this very weird world we find ourselves in, I feel we have one of the most interesting stories that this world has ever known.
For someone to be snatched out of their homeland and you don’t know where you come from, what this or what that, yet we still are triumphant, even when the powers at be are trying to hold us down by doing all types of wrongdoing to us, I feel we have a very interesting story so it’s very necessary to create art for the story that we are living. When you look back at old civilizations like Greece, Egypt, Rome; When you look back at those civilizations and those times, the way we know what was going on was through the art. When you go through the history books, you’re looking at the art work they left to know what was going on in those times and how they were living.
Not even just me, but any type of creative or artist, whether you’re a writer or painter or journalist, I feel journalists write art. So, it’s very important for us to document what is going on right now, so it won’t get twisted in the future.”
Where do you draw inspiration for your art? Any role models you follow? Past or present?
Watson: “In terms of my style, I wouldn’t say I follow anybody current or previous. I will say, however, even before I knew about Haitian art, my art has always been colorful and when I started to educate myself on Haitian art, I noticed it was very colorful and very similar to my art. So, I always attest to my ancestors. Maybe it’s just in my DNA to create very vibrant art because I do notice within my family and bloodline, I have a lot of different artists in my bloodline, so perhaps it’s something within my DNA.
Where I get my inspiration from? Like I said, just us. Just life. What we’re going through, positives or negatives. To be honest, sometimes I don’t really come up with a lot of my stuff. It might sound strange, but it’s almost downloaded in my mind, where it comes like a lightning bolt type of vision. The foundation of the image comes in a vision and I go and create it.”
Can you state the differences in what you see in terms of inspirations or the different art styles or creativity that you see within the cities? You grew up in South Florida, then you moved to Philly and then you moved to New York. Obviously, you get a baseline on what you look for and what you see, but can you highlight some of the real things that stand out between the differences of the cities and the creations you see in them or things that inspire you within those cities?
Watson: “Yeah, that’s actually an extremely good question, because that’s something I’ve noticed as I’ve been living in these different cities. I would say with South Fl., I was the kid in the class that would fail his tests because he drew on them (chuckles). But one thing, looking back on it, I noticed that although I didn’t see too much art around, I noticed the buildings. My apartment building was lime green and the building across the street was bright orange. Another building was pink. When I go home, I noticed these buildings have so many vibrant colors. In South Fl., the sun is always shining, so the sky is big and blue. My art is very colorful and vibrant, and I think that had something to do with it. And you know, in Florida, there is no winter, so everything is in full bloom, the flowers are out. I think the architecture and how everything is bright and vibrant, that’s what I noticed there.
When I moved to Philly, and started to notice the art, it’s extremely raw. It’s really powerful. And the people who create it, you can tell this is really their soul and they’re really into this, and its very unique art as well. Philly is a very tough city. Philly is as advertised.
What I’ve noticed in New York, just me being here for two months, it’s very creative. On a grand scale, its top tier art. Just walking around and seeing the murals and the graffiti. This isn’t just graffiti that say’s “Fuck you and yo momma”. This is intellectual graffiti that you look at and know that person put thought into this simple thing. Very similar to Jean-Michel Basquiat, where he was doing graffiti in New York and that were more intellectual statements. If there’s a mural, it’s grand, extreme talent. What I’ve noticed in New York is this is top tier. Whoever these people are, these are the best of the best.
What does art mean to you? As a person and an artist in general?
Watson: “For me, art puts a definition to my life. I really feel without art, if I wasn’t creating in any way, I really wouldn’t have much meaning in my life working a 9 to 5. Obviously, it would be a life, but I feel it would be very dry, very mundane. I feel that because I am able to create and put these things out there, even if no one was looking, the fact is it’s a very therapeutic thing to me.
It’s very tedious and time consuming, but while I’m grinding away at it for hours and hours, the end result of it is all worth it. It’s always been something where I’ve been able to express however I’m feeling or any type of message that I want to put out there. So, to me, art brings definition to my life.”
What does it mean to you to be Haitian?
Watson: “To me, being Haitian means everything. I learned about the history of Haiti and how we overcame slavery, defeated Napoleon, and why Haiti is very poor at a very late age, around 19 or 20. But ever since then, I’ve had just so much pride being Haitian. Especially because now, being Haitian is very cool, but when I was growing up, we had to fight. No one was our friends or buddies. We had to stick together and fight because a lot of people were attacking us. I feel like that as well is why Haitians are so close and tight knit.
Unlike a lot of different nationalities, I could be in Pittsburgh, and have my Haitian flag and if I see someone else with a Haitian flag, automatically that person is like my brother or sister. I could be like “What up Zo!” That brotherhood and sisterhood, that family-hood is unlike anything I have personally known or seen. I feel that’s what makes us so strong. I know it’s very strong within our generation, but I really hope with the next generation, it doesn’t die down, because I feel that is something extremely special.
Because, me personally, when I see another Haitian, whether it’s a man or woman, the way I think, that’s my ancestor speaking to me saying “That’s the person that fought alongside me when we were at war”. “That’s the ancestor of such and such that fought long side me when we were in the war for the revolution of Haiti.” I feel that were all interconnected because our ancestors went through that battle together. When we defeated Napoleon and the French, they were a super power of the world, and these bands of “slaves” overcame that, and I get chills just thinking about that, so when I see another Haitian, I don’t know who you are or what your about, but it’s all love. For me, being Haitian is extremely, extremely important, and that’s absolutely, positively, the main reason why I create the type of art I create. Because we are all naturally revolutionaries and we naturally speak truth and we naturally fight for what’s good and what’s right. We fight against evil. Slavery is evil, and we fought against it. It’s something we naturally do.”
Have you been to Haiti before?
Watson: “Man, I haven’t been to Haiti since I was two years old. That’s the worst thing in the world to me. But I definitely wanted to go by the end of this year. I may still go. I just got my passport this year specifically so I could go to Haiti, just because I feel so bad that I haven’t been there since I was two. Either at the end of this year or early, early next year, I really need to go.”
What do you plan on doing or seeing when you get there?
Watson: “When I go there in the future, I’ll go to enjoy myself, but I don’t want to go there to enjoy myself. I want to go there to see how I can help. Talk to people and see what I can do to either inspire or lend a helping hand or if I can set up some type of program where I can give my best to them. I don’t really want to go there for pleasure. I want to work.”
What message do you hope to spread with your art?
Watson: “The message I would like to spread is this is how we feel. Every day, you almost have to just turn off the news. There’s so much negativity going on in the world and with these very traumatic events going on, the message I want to send is I want it to be a mirror image. When someone looks at the image and they see themselves and they can relate to it, I want them to say, “This is how I feel.”, whether there’s something negative or positive going on in the image. And if the person isn’t black, I want them to know this is an expression of how these people feel and what they are going through. Am I expecting the individual to completely change their ways because of this? No. When someone is fixed into something, they’re fixed into something, but I at least want to put a message out there that this is what we’re going through.
In my heart, I’m always trying to evolve. I don’t always want to be creating the same thing. Although I want to express this is what we’re going through, I also want to put more positive images out there. I feel that imagery is extremely important. What people see, they ultimately formulate within their own reality. So, obviously, I want to keep the focus on things that are negative and that need to change, but also I want to start putting a spotlight on positive things that are going on around us.”
What are your goals as an artist?
Watson: “My goal as an artist is to create something that the culture, and when I say culture, I mean just black culture period. I really would like to be a very big part of that, in the sense of when they look back, this is something was happening within black culture. To speak our message of what was the culture like during this time. Obviously, I’ve said my main goal is to help us. Do what I can to help the people.”
What are some of the highlights of your young artistic career thus far?
Watson: “I would say the highlight so far is a few weeks ago, this Haitian organization called Creole Image Honors, honored me with the Jean-Michel Basquiat award. That was the first award I’ve gotten thus far for my art. Not only is it an amazing honor, but the fact it came from Haitians, my people. I’ve had articles in the Washington Post, radio talks on NPR, been on TV. But getting an award from my blood, my people, that meant more than anything to me.”
Random question: If you could have one famous person commission a painting from you, who would it be for or to?
Watson: “I’m a big Andre 3000 fan. I like Andre 3000 a lot. I like him as an artist. I love his music. Him as an artist, I’ve always been very interested. Even how he goes about his life as an artist, something like that would be amazing.”
You mentioned you grew up in South Fl., and came into your own in Philly, and you live in New York currently and you want to go to Haiti in the next few months or so. Is there one other place in your mind or your heart that you want to go to and stay there for a while or live at or do an extended trip there for you to try and gain inspiration and create art that you haven’t been to yet?
Watson: “Yeah definitely. I definitely want to go to Africa. Where at exactly in Africa I’m not completely sure, not because I don’t know places in Africa, but because there’s so many options. I want to go to Cairo, I want to go to Nigeria. I want to go to Ghana. I want to go to Kenya. South Africa. I don’t know where yet. Just somewhere in Africa. Like I said before, personally, I did not go to art school, but I am a student of art. I do research on artists of the past, artists who are my contemporaries who are doing their thing right now. I research these individuals.
One of the main reasons why I moved to New York was artists spent time in places like New York and the city kind of did something to them and elevated them to who they became. I also noticed a lot of artists go to Paris as well because that city does something to people and it kind of molds them. For example, my favorite artist is Picasso. I know he spent a very extended time there and a lot of different artist went to Paris. I don’t know much about the city but it’s definitely somewhere I’d like to go just to know what this city possibly does to all these people to inspire them to be who they turned out to be to where I’m reading about them 100 years later.”
Would you say New York has given you any inspiration yet or you haven’t been there long enough to feel that movement in your soul?
Watson: “New York has definitely given me a lot so far. Every day has been a roller coaster. Whether it’s something extremely great that’s happened or if I’m struggling, the days seem so long. Something I did this morning feels like I did it two days ago, just because it’s such a dynamic place in terms of the different types of people you see, the people you interact with, the architecture. How, on a grand scale, you walk down the street and see the World Trade Center and its right there. When you stay here for a while, people become numb to it, but someone like me, that it’s all still new, I don’t want to lose that inspiration. That feeling of “Yo we’re walking across the Brooklyn Bridge” or when I’m in Brooklyn, I see the Ol’ Dirty Bastard mural that I used to see when I was in middle school on MTV. I don’t want to lose that fascination with the city. I feel like there’s a lot of souls that came here to do something, but they got lost in the city and lost the dream of the reason why they came, and I don’t want that to happen to me. I want to still be inspired by the city.”
Where can people follow you on social media?
“On the website we have merchandise such as T-shirts for sale. There are prints on there as well. We have originals on there. We have various options for not only prints, but sizes per print as well as materials the work will be on. So those are most of the sites. I have a twitter, but I don’t tweet. So no need to waste a follow (chuckles).”
Do you have any other outside projects or things going on you’d like to let the world know about?
Watson: “Yeah, so I’m in Brooklyn now, but I’m going to Philadelphia on 10/31/18 to set up for my very first solo art exhibit at Urban Art Gallery in Philadelphia. That’s something, in terms of accomplishments, that’s second or third because when you want to be an accountant or teacher, you go to school and you take this test, you do this or that, but when you want to be a musician or an artist, there’s no blueprint of how you get to that point, but you just go on a limb and start creating and putting an effort into it and you start seeing results, it’s extremely fulfilling. So, I’d say this solo art exhibit is very special to me. The art will be in there for the entire month of November. It’s going to have a lot of my important pieces that I, personally, like and I will be unveiling a new piece there as well. So that’s my main project. Other than that, I just want to continue to create. I’m in New York now so there’s a lot of inspiration out here. Interesting things. So just be on the lookout!”
Writer’s note: The address for the Urban Art Gallery is 262 S. 52nd ST. Philadelphia PA 19139. It opens on Saturday, 11/03/18 at 6PM EST and the event runs until 9PM EST. As mentioned above, the gallery is open through the month of November. Go check out some dope art and support the young genius!
Written By: Ethan Ayala
Ethan Ayala was born in New York but was raised in Orlando, Florida. He currently works in IT, but has a real passion for writing. Ethan’s writings will range from introspective interviews to sports, with a predominant focus on combat sports such as MMA or Boxing. “I hope you all enjoy my work, as everything I will write will be with 100% of my being. Godspeed!” –Ethan Ayala