We sat down with AAWatson to discuss how he juggles being an accountant and an artist, where his ideas come from, and his favourite reactions to his typography prints.
AR: Where do you take your inspiration from? What are your biggest influences?
AAWatson: It all stems from the fact that I spent all of my career in the corporate world. I'm a qualified accountant, I've worked in FTSE top 10 companies most of my life. I only started doing my own artwork a couple of years ago. But I've always been a big collector, particularly of street art and pop art prints. I took a sabbatical a couple of years ago and I started doing my own art and it's actually drawing a lot from my corporate work. I refer to the phrases I use as an 'inner monologue' - the things that you're not really supposed to say out loud. Particularly when you're in a working environment.
But then I also pull ideas from the news and from conversations. It's the phrases that make you smile in your own head but you don't say out loud. So that's where the inspiration comes from. I use old images in the background to bring out the humour in it. You're trying to take a very old and serious image but putting an amusing thought in their head, as if that is what they are really thinking.
AR: You combine the old and new together so well, where did the idea first come from?
AAWatson: At the first Other Art Fair I did, a woman came up to me and said that usually she finds typography artwork too 'in your face' as if the text is shouting at her. But she liked mine because it was accompanied by a blurred image with the gold leafing and; it was a softer image overall. She saw the human in it, and that was what I was trying to do. I want people to smile at my work.
AR: You mentioned that your pieces carry an inner monologue. How do you choose a phrase for each artwork? Do you have a bank of phrases you choose from?
AAWatson: I've released maybe about 20 designs out of about 400 that I have sitting on my laptop. I have a little back book that I write in every time I hear a phrase that I like. Quite often, they go through several iterations of scribbles before I then start to try and work them up digitally. Sometimes the words don't translate well into an image. There needs to be a balance of spacing, the size of the words and how they fit onto the page to make the overall artwork successful. So I've had some great ideas, but they actually look horrible.
I often do my prints in pairs. So I get complementary images in the background of each to make them look like a couple. A lot of clients have bought them in pairs, and therefore I'm deliberately using the same size, same style, same level of blurring, same colouring so that clients can mix and match and make complementary images that they can hang together.
AR: So how how do you narrow it down from your 400 to your 20 artworks? Is it a personal choice?
AAWatson: It's kind of a personal choice. If I see something that I like, and I can match up with images that I like, I tend to release them as a pair. If they are popular I may release more or I create one-offs. I've started to create more one off variations of my prints as they have been very popular.
AR: You mentioned your little black book, how do your ideas develop? Is it more of a spontaneous process? Or do you find you're more methodical with it?
AAWatson: It tends to be a kind of spontaneous thought, where I've heard someone say a word and that's triggered something. But then I am quite methodical in terms of working on an image digitally to try and understand how image and word interact. It may go through several iterations to get it looking visually balanced. But I think that's my professional accounting side coming out!
AR: How does humour play into your work? Is that the driving force behind your creative process?
AAWatson: I think it is. Certainly, I like to see humans interacting with my work in a humorous way. I like to see the human in my works and I don't take it too seriously. I also find that a lot of the words and phases I'm using are cathartic, in a way. Or it tends to be words that I find quite interesting. I use typically British sort of sayings, like blimey Charlie, or Gordon Bennet. I enjoy looking behind what that's where that saying originally came from. And to be honest, I have to do a bit of research both on the words and the image, just to ensure that I'm not using an image of someone who has skeletons in their closet!
Particularly given the timeline of a lot of images from the 1600s, I can't guarantee none of the people in the artwork doesn't have a skeleton in the closet, but I do check to make sure there's nothing obvious. A lot of them are unknown subjects, and I avoid anybody that was a merchant. Although you can't tell who the person is, I don't want to use something that people could find a problem with. So I just need to be careful because I wouldn't want to put something out that was negatively connected to something else.
AR: You're very well travelled. How do you think your extensive travel experience has affected your art, if at all?
AAWatson: I think it's probably given me quite an eclectic style. My apartment in London is full of art that I've collected, and every wall space is covered. My apartment is a bit like going to the Summer Exhibition, the way the walls are covered! It's an eclectic mix, but it's all mounted the same way. I think that's similar to the way I'm making my work. I have lots of editions out but you can mix and match, hang them in a group and place them together in a cohesive way. I guess my travel actually started with me doing photography. And that was my first way back into the art world. Doing that then brought me back into the digital world and then putting my work into production. So it was the travel that brought me into photography, which probably back into the art world after 21 years away.
AR: That is a very convoluted journey back to your passion! Is there any particular artwork or artists that kind of triggered your move back into art?
AAWatson: I love Dan Hillier's work and his use of old images. I guess that's probably a trigger for me. A seed of an idea, at least.
AR: What is the lasting impression you want to leave on the viewers of your work? What do you want their overriding emotions to be?
AAWatson: I think it's amazing when they've connected with my works or found humour or catharsis within it. I've just recently done the Other Art Fair. Lots of people would stop and read and smile and nod and go "yeah, I see that", "I think that '' but the clients that actually bought an artwork of mine connected to the art personally. One client bought an Artist's Proof of mine called 'Bad Decisions Make The Best Stories' to celebrate serving her husband with divorced people. Her best friend who was with her at the time also bought a print called 'Bad Influences Make The Best Friends'. They worked perfectly as a pair. Generally, when someone buys my work it does have a personal meaning to them beyond just an amusing piece of artwork. It's something that they will continue to look at. It's a memory or it's a connection to something that's relevant to them at a time.
AR: I think it's safe to say that the pandemic and juice lockdowns kind of disrupted the routine of many artists. And how did your routine alter and what does a typical day look like for you?
AAWatson: To be honest, the pandemic probably did me a favour. The first time I sold a piece of art was at the Other Art Fair in 2018. I sent my application in and got accepted before I had actually made any work! So that was a bit of a panic. From then on I got picked up by several galleries and I was constantly rushing to create work. There wasn't a level of consistency, you couldn't place two images together, and they were all different colours, sizes and backgrounds. So actually the world stopping allowed me to actually take a step back, take a breather and look at the body of work so far. I had to move my production to my kitchen floor and buy a small portable screen printing machine, and to this day I'm still actually producing work on my kitchen floor! Overall It just meant I had the chance to spend more time to improve the quality and consistency of the production of my work, and therefore I'm much happier with how my art fits together as a total body of work
I still work doing consultancy full time at the moment but because of the way I work, a lot of it is through digital designs. This means I can get up every morning and spend time on my designs and then actually produce them on weekends.
AR: How do you see your art developing in the future?
AAWatson: I think I probably will start using a lot of my own photography. When I first started doing this, I used to take an unconventional image and digitise it - there was no phrasing. At the moment I am focusing on using gold leaf, glitter, and building my artistic techniques. I'm trying to evolve my practice without making a massive design jump.
AR: If you could give one tip to a new art collector, what would it be?
AAWatson: My advice would be to buy something that you want to look at again and again and again. Don't buy it for the sake of buying.
To discover more of AAWatson's artworks, visit his Art Republic collection page.