Harry Watson has developed his own enigmatic style and visual vernacular over decades of experimentation and practise. A completely self-taught carver, Watson was first inspired by the saints, angels and reliquaries of the cathedrals of medieval Europe. From the mid-1990s his work adopted a New Zealand focus and since then his idiosyncratic carvings have become an amalgam of references from New Zealand history, contemporary society, and popular culture.
Watson’s small carved constructions act as portals to alternate worlds redolent with concepts and practices of performance, ritual, religion, and the occult. Anthropomorphised characters reside over barren landscapes occupied by Dali-esque ruins and shadowy figures. Scale and lucidity are irrelevant here; everyday objects cast elongated ominous shadows, truncated heads peer out of windows, birds and fish dressed in power suits appear as imaginary idols, their limbs raised upwards in despair or pious worship, grasping snakes or thorny plants that blossom into flames. Other figures have had their heads replaced by coin faces, as if in homage to those early symbols of power and prosperity.
While Watson prefers to ardently resist interpretation, instead emphasising the playful qualities of his practice, his works are unequivocally a response to the complexities of the modern world – to the contemporary legacy of colonialism, to the inescapable nature of capitalism, and the destructive impact of rampant consumerism. The works in this exhibition appear as jovial harbingers of doom, jubilantly presenting us with vestiges of some obscure future.