A visionary storyteller, Esther Pearl Watson (b. 1973) blends memories and imagination to capture her Texas upbringing. A mural-size painting (about 13 feet tall and 10 feet wide), Pasture Cows Crossing Indian Creek, was created specifically for the Amon Carter’s atrium. It is part of the museum’s program of rotating contemporary artworks in the atrium space and an exciting addition to an ongoing exploration of Texas artists and their contributions to modern American art.
An homage to her family, “the memories we built together and sense of place,” this lively, storied painting features a wide swath of land in Comanche, Texas, where the artist’s grandfather operated a cattle ranch and was general manager of the local radio station. Watson highlights the canvas with landmarks and motifs that are identifiable to Texas natives. Although deeply personal, Watson’s narratives transcend her inner world to relay the distinctive folklores and qualities that are unique to Texas.
Born in Germany but raised in the north Dallas area in the 1980s, Watson grew up with an eccentric father who built spaceships in the front yard hoping to sell one to NASA. While her father thought of himself as an inventor, aspiring to create transportation for the future, Watson struggled to understand his intentions. It was not until she discovered an art book in college devoted to individuals who built flying saucers, along with Raw Vision, a magazine devoted to outsider art, that Watson understood her father’s dreams. She began to recognize him as a visionary, or outsider/folk artist—typically self-taught individuals who express their creativity in a personal way, irrespective of the mainstream art world. “Because of my father,” she notes, “I have always felt at home with vernacular art. My work has been called insider-outsider and faux naive. For me, it is a visual language I associate with the subjective.” As a nod to her father’s influence, the artist often includes flying saucers in her canvases; a luminous pink one appears in Pasture Cows Crossing Indian Creek.
Watson’s naïve painting style is deceptive, for she holds a Master’s of Fine Art from the California Institute of the Arts, teaches at Pasadena Art Center College of Design, and has been exhibited internationally. In addition to her paintings, she is celebrated for her illustrated series of comic novels entitled Unlovable.
Concurrent with the Amon Carter’s exhibition, the artist has an exhibition opening at the Webb Gallery in Waxahachie, Texas. The exhibition, Mother Popcorn, is on view from June 7 to August 12.