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S Mark Gubb explores the graphic work of artist Ian Watson.

 Ian Watson

On the face of it, the world that Ian Watson artistically occupies can look like a terrifying place. One inhabited by mutated people, weird beasts and skulls, fungi and dark locations that reveal themselves deep in forests. It s the stuff of nightmares. But the more that you explore them - visually and conceptually the more these worlds reveal their every day qualities, not so far removed from the domesticity of your own. A collection of things that create an immediate sense of unease, but are not explicitly wrong.

There is a line on his website, where he talks of his work being the product of amisspent youth hiding out with like-minded mutants in the video rental shops and woodlands of East Sussex, head buried in headphones, soaking up the occult messages from a collection of heavy metal cassettes . This is revealing in several ways. If we hadn t already guessed that a youthful Watson may have been a fan of heavy metal and its over the top visual stylings, he confirms it here. By default, this casts him as the outsider; the kid that liked the weird music who probably only hung around with other kids who liked the weird music. It s too reductive to then say his work is born out of an obsession with heavy metal album covers and horror film video cases as we should equally be talking about the horrific imagery of Goya or Bosch but there s a palpable sense that the likes of Derek Riggs (creator of Iron Maiden s mascotEddie ) have been of as much influence, if not more, on Watson s style and world view. That said the figures in his works are very much not monsters in the mythical sense of the word. They play on the truth that there is nothing creepier or more unsettling than reality.

The mention of video stores and cassettes also locates his sphere of influence in a particular time and space. Video and cassette are largely redundant formats, long-since replaced by the digital world of DVD and MP3. They allude to a time even before Blockbuster was king, when the independent video shop was a place of weird and wonderful cover art, cramped and quiet, feeling something like a cross between a second-hand bookshop and somewhere you just know you re too young to be: the allure of theadult section,blue movies promising a visual orgy even the most pubescent of minds couldn t really comprehend and the horror films threatening to terrify and nauseate in equal measure, all combining to create a confusing and exhilarating frisson of emotion. One you returned for, time and time again.

 Ian Watson

There are recurrent themes that appear through Watson s work. The outsider, the woods, animals, nature, fungi, each capable of playing a dual role in any readings we take. The outsider may be on the outside, but is not in any way compromised or apologetic. This is a position of choice and power, not ostracisation. The woods are equally alluding to that unknown space that we inherently fear, as much as they are the place Watson and his friends used to hang out in their youth. A place to explore, socialise and just be. The fungi make us think of the full life cycle they are life and growth in and of themselves, but they are growing because something else is dying, in turn paving the way for yet more growth. Scary becomes familiar becomes domestic becomes known becomes different becomes odd becomes unknown becomes scary...

It could be said that this whole world that Watson is involved with is an extension of an existence outside of the perceived mainstream. He works as an artist, not a safe or logical career path for anyone to follow. He s drawing the kinds of things his twelve year old self might have drawn, had he the patience or skill to do so. He s creating his own world, inhabited by his own people, for his own enjoyment. That s not to say that as viewers we re not invited in but just as a teenage music fan might obsessively copy an album sleeve on to the back of a jacket thereby securing their outsider status for all to see Watson s works become a grown up extension of this, confident and no more apologetic or searching for acceptance than those clumsy sketches of youth.

Watson s drawings are painstakingly rendered, by hand, with a relative economy of tools; paper, pens, pencils, the kind of equipment that we ve all had access to our entire lives (just slightly more expensive versions). They are so precise you could be forgiven for thinking there must be a computer involved somewhere vectors and pixels replacing pigment and fibre. But Watson is an artist engaged as much in his craft as he is in the work s content. This attention to detail is equally present in the subjects he chooses. It s when we really examine the every day that we begin to see how weird it is. How things that barely register in the general melee of existence are actually verging on surreal and sinister. How sinister can actually be funny and how this seemingly dark examination of our world can reveal something that we ve always known is there.

One of Watson s projects is an ongoing series of zines,Brain Blood Volume 1, 2, 3 and 4 . The termbrain blood volume actually refers to the process of trepanation; the practice of burring a whole through the skull to the brain, for medical reasons. There s a theory that when the skull finally seals, around the age of eighteen, the brain no longer has room to pulsate along with your heartbeat, so the volume of blood in your brain drops and is replaced with water. Because blood provides the brain with energy, but water does not, youthful energy drops away. The act of unsealing the skull, allowing room for these pulsations to return, can therefore restore this youthful energy to the person so the theory goes.

 Ian Watson

Watson is drawing on all of the things he found so exciting as a teenager, visually, thematically, physically, socially, atmospherically. In drawing so completely on these keystones of influence, it s like an artistic trepanation, allowing their energy to flow in to his work, captured in an adult form, but maintaining that energy of youth. In itself, this reference to brain blood volume gives us some insight in to the points of interest, even language, that he draws upon; things that may not be known to us, but are never too far away. The world he creates is so unsettling because we begin to recognise it as our own.

Ian Watson's work is on show at Chapter until 24th November.

About the artist

Ian Watson was born in 1976 in Crawley and studied Fine Art at Howard Gardens, Cardiff. He now lives and works in Cardiff.

Recent exhibitions includeLike a Monkey With a Miniature Cymbal Aid & Abet, Cambridge, (2013);Brzeska s Eagle G39, Cardiff,Swan Lake Milkwood Gallery, Cardiff,First , The Lucky Jotter Pop-up gallery, Leyland, (all 2012);Totem Homecoming Zellig SPace, Birmingham,Curio East Gallery, London, (both 2011).

More information about Ian s work is available at

Text by S Mark Gubb, an artist based in Cardiff Reproduced by kind permission of the author and Chapter Arts.