Meet a weird woodcarver…
Woodcarver Julian Watts never touched the stuff as a sculpture major at the University of Oregon, where he earned his BFA in 2012. “The program was more experimental and cerebral than technical or craft-based,” says Watts, 27. “Some of my installations involved healthy quantities of pink goo,” he adds with a smile. “But I think I was mapping out my future direction.”
Watts’ immediate journey after college was back home to San Francisco, where he found work in a furniture wood-shop specialising in tables. Performing rote tasks at first, he mastered increasingly sophisticated techniques and eventually was able to trade hours for studio space within the shop “and finally return to making some kind of art.”
Watts began collecting free scraps of wood from around the shop, inspired by a two-day spoon-carving workshop he’d taken back in college. “Then I took out my gouges and basically went at it, learning as I went along”. As Watts became more comfortable and proficient with the process, his sculptural training began to assert itself, and functional objects such as bowls and spoons started to morph, turning increasingly more fantastical and conceptual.
“Yeah, they started to get weird pretty quickly.” recalls Watts. “Once I had the basic skills down, I wanted to express ideas I’d been carrying around, and I started pushing the form”. Hence, at a show last April at Heath Ceramics in San Francisco, there were conjoined vessels that suggest lungs as much as bowls, platters that closely resemble a lunar landscape, and utensils that seem to have sprouted strange, even menacing, appendages. Beautiful to behold, the pieces also challenge viewers’ perceptions, as many of these seemingly domestic objects are more suggestive of the surreal stuff of dreams than the contents of a kitchen drawer.
As Watts pulls from ideas that have been in his head since art school, his experience as a furniture maker helps fuel his process. Every object starts as an abstract scribble in his sketchbook, which he transfers directly onto the wood. “I always try to fit in as many pieces as possible, and then the ideas continue to change and evolve as I carve, depending upon the grain and the shape of the wood,” he explains.