All Articles
All Articles

Studio Visit: Ouattara Watts

The acclaimed artist offers us a rare glimpse inside his Brooklyn studio ahead of his upcoming mini retrospective

by Karen Day
on 27 January 2012

While we all like to tap into an artist's brain, find out exactly what goes on in their mind to make them create what they do, sometimes there isn't really more behind a work of art than simply a vision that a person is unable to explain through words. The different approaches to making art—from pragmatic to utterly emotional—is part of what keeps the field perpetually intriguing.


A reticent painter originally from Côte d'Ivoire, Ouattara Watts recently opened up his studio to Cool Hunting for a preview of the newly formed works comprising his forthcoming exhibition. The large, garage-like space is located in an industrial part of Brooklyn between Williamsburg and Bushwick that's home to numerous emerging artists. With both the Whitney Museum and Venice biennials on his résumé, the veteran painter may hold more clout than his neighbors, but his artistic spirit seems unaffected by his widespread success.


Organized by Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, Watts' upcoming NYC exhibition—which Roitfeld says is more like a small retrospective—will feature 18 new paintings alongside a few existing pieces. Watts completed all of these large-scale works in a matter of about six months, explaining that with the way the world is right now, he has a lot to say. At the moment, he is mostly preoccupied by the population of mistreated children in the world, a concern that presumably evolved since the birth of his own child, a life-changing moment for him.


Bursting with color and layered in fabrics and objects picked up from his global travels, Watts' paintings are still entrenched in his own style of Neo-Expressionism. Cryptic serial numbers abound, alluding to a secret code that only he knows about, but one that could potentially be worked out through clever deciphering or a deep understanding of West African cosmology. The mysticism that prevails reflects a coalescent spirituality, his beliefs not tied to one religion or another, but that together are very much a part of his enduring creative passion.


The mix of media Watts uses is also symbolic of his constant exploration, and the people he encounters along the way. For example, the massive piece, "Vertigo #4" is covered in a denim remnant given to him by the shop owner of a fabric store near his Midtown apartment. Glued to this is an Ikea-like dish cloth embroidered with the initials "JL"—who they belong to Watts claims not to know. These found objects and recycled fabrics likely speak to the movement against using expensive materials, a notion developed in the 1970s by fellow Ivorian painter Mathilde Moraeau which she called Vohou-Vohou. The mix also undoubtedly marks a more natural way for Watts to express himself, free of monetary limitations or a prescribed aesthetic.


Although known in his own right, it's difficult not to associate Watts with the legendary artist Jean-Michael Basquiat. The two met in Paris while Watts was studying at the renowned L’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, and while their friendship was short-lived due to Basquiat's death, Watts considers him almost like a soulmate. Basquiat convinced him to move to NYC, where Watts gave rise to African art with prominent shows at the Gagosian and Vrej Baghoomian galleries.


The exhibition opens 7 February and runs through 19 February 2012 at the cavernous space known simply as 560 Washington Street.

All images by Image Agency, see more in the slideshow below.

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot
Loading More...