In the 90s, she was an immensely influential fashion illustrator, both in Sweden and on the international scene. Since then, through her geometrically constructed paintings and her playful use of color, Watkins (b. 1971) has
come into her own as a tremendously productive generator of peculiar worlds and imagery.
The common thread here is women and the worlds they inhabit. These were also significant
themes for expressionist Sigrid Hjertén – whose great influence on Watkins resulted in a TV
show produced earlier this year. The exhibition also includes a number of works by the
earlier artist. None of the selected works have been shown publicly for at least 10 years, and
they all date back to the 1910s and 20s, the period when the influence from Matisse was at
its strongest. However, this was also a time when Hjertén focused on motifs related to female
roles, both those of her own alter egos and those of the women around her.
Liselotte Watkins on Liselotte Watkins
I apply many layers of paint; it’s very rare for me to get it right the first time. I enjoy playing with the paints. I don’t mix them; I put them on flat, and I want them to contrast clearly against one another. Like a jigsaw of colors. I never knew there were classes. I tried to understand the codes, and I became good at picking up on them. I saw what people did, and mimicked it. I slipped through the cracks somehow. I’m really not sure how it happened. I’m very naïve, but I’m also very cynical. When you get older, you grow less charming, she points out. You need to have a plan. Sometimes, you can feel very lost, like a country cousin. I’m very fortunate to get to be in this environment. I’m not sure how, or where I’m going to end up. Being constantly on your toes works quite well.
My Italian is very bad, and I’m seeking my own language through an exploration of the culture and its esthetic ethos. Stretching its limits. I’ve seen a lot of Caravaggio’s works, that’s where the dark backgrounds come from. And the sculptor, Bernini. That’s where the women’s army comes from. I seldom feel at home. I don’t have a sense of home. I’m searching for it, but at the same time, I like the feeling of being unrooted. Ingrid Bergman once said: “Why would I want to feel at home? Isn’t it more fun to be in motion?”
“The women… well, I think about myself, and how I feel about my own body. It’s exciting to grow older and give birth to children. I have a daughter who’s six years old. It’s exciting to see how our relationships to our bodies change. The untroubled attitude she has to it. Right now, she feels cute when she poses, but later, she’ll understand other things. I’m fascinated by the female body, and how we use it. What we choose to cover up. Shield. My women are both awkward and strong. Nobody finds men very interesting, after all.”
The archaic, pre-classic cubist female characters in Liselotte Watkins’s idiom exude such power and that you can barely believe they were made by 21st century hands. It’s as though she had found them and brought them back to light after centuries in oblivion rather than having invented them. How should we describe these women, and how were they born? Liselotte Watkins herself was born in Nyköping in 1971. Or rather, in a small village close to Nyköping. Her father was a welder, and her mother was an early retiree, so she wasn’t exposed to much art or other culture in the home.
Since then, the colors, the women, and her restlessness have kept her moving. It’s fascinating to imagine what she was like as a little girl. What did she think of herself, and her future options in life? When did she begin planning her adventures so far away from small-town Sweden? Where did her confidence come from? She has no time for these questions now, because she’s a roving kind. The US, Paris, art school. In the 90s, the fashion industry underwent a changing of the guard, and Liselotte was a member of the new breed that emerged. Glossy, mature ideals began to face competition from a more feminist, separatist subculture. The young girls in her illustrations radiate independence and pleasure, joy and laissez-faire.
Many of us still recall how new and exciting it all seemed then. Her success opened the door to one of the most misogynous environments around: the Italian fashion houses. But again, Liselotte Watkins really isn’t that kind. She began dividing her time in Milan, at first, and then Rome, between working on her own art and creating pattern designs for the art lover Miuccia Prada. Of course, the artistic talent that raged within this wild child did not go unnoticed. This was the beginning of a time of colors. They express her emotions and the drama of the Mediterranean palette. Pink, yellow, blue, and green. Fast forward to 2018, and these mysterious women have begun to appear in Liselotte Watkins’s canvases and ceramic sculptures. Archaic, geometric, kaleidoscopic, and radiant like stained glass windows. But all the same, solid as houses.