Most artists hold back when their masterpieces are called “crafts”, while craftsmen shrug their shoulders and smile when their work is called “art”. Carey Watters is located at the crossroads of the two disciplines, embracing the references of art while knowing that his technique also draws from the school of trades.
Watters, an associate professor of art at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, specializes in cut-paper art and mixed-media collages, a rare mix among contemporary designers. “Carey Watters — Small Denominations”Celebrates his work in a new exhibition opening June 26 at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend.
The exhibition is part of MOWA’s 60th anniversary celebration, which highlights the work of women artists. The 23 individual Watters pieces in the exhibit draw inspiration from women in history and mythology, making her inclusion in the celebration natural, said Graeme Reid, the museum’s director of exhibits. “I don’t see anyone else who does a collage and does it as well, as detailed and as cohesive as she is,” says Reid. “The craftsmanship is incredible. “
Watters, who started out as an art history major at UW-Madison specializing in colonial and federal style architecture, initially thought she would become an architect. Instead, she studied graphic design at UW-Milwaukee before returning to Madison to earn a graduate degree in graphic design, specializing in engraving, bookbinding, and letterpress printing. While she teaches many of these disciplines at Parkside, the MOWA exhibition only highlights her mixed media cut-paper works.
“I’m a materials specialist who works in environmental graphic design,” says Watters. “I’m interested in textures, new materials and new techniques and I try to integrate them all into the piece I’m working on at the time. “
Stay up to date with the latest news
Subscribe to our free daily email newsletter to get the latest local news, dining, music, arts, entertainment and events in Milwaukee straight to your inbox every day of the week, plus a bonus email review of the week on Saturday.
The exhibition includes several self-portraits in three-dimensional cut paper, several groups of boxes gilded with gold leaf and a series of small shrines called lalariums which she was introduced to when she studied art in Italy and Turkey. She returns to these countries often possible both to guide her students and seek further inspiration, she says. But it is the way she creates her art that draws the most inspiration from the school of crafts and, in fact, stands out for its methodology.
“Everything I do is very process-oriented and I operate almost like an assembly line,” says Watters. “I print multiple copies of images for storage, and my little cut-out pieces of paper tend to pile up over time. I have developed holding models, most often boards that I pin these individual pieces to, and it is only after I have done that that the narrative of a certain work of art will begin to reveal itself.
“I work pretty much all the time,” she adds, “but with everything there is an order in the process, and at the very end I can put the different pieces together. “
Women in mythology and history are common themes that emerge in Watters’ collages. She also includes a lot of golden boxes in her art, a difficult and archaic process that she has worked hard to revive. Reliquary boxes, which are portable containers often containing religious relics, have a special appeal to the artist.
“There are a lot of paper cut artists, but I think maybe I’m doing something different than what you might find out there,” Watters says. “There are many layers to these pieces and I would like viewers to dig deep and think about facets that can be linked to their own stories.”