TOMAS Watson welcomed me into his studio, housed in an almost derelict old house in the lush village of Menites on the Cycladic island of Andros, and as he painted I asked him questions. Having known him for several years, our conversations normally take place over a dinner table, usually crowded with delicious meze dishes and frosty carafes of hima wine. Never one to put on airs, despite being a successful artist, he regularly and openly discusses his art, the ins and outs of his working processes, the things that perplex, block or catalyze him when painting, but I have never actually watched him paint until this day. I feel quite honoured to be able to sit in a corner of his working space, thick with the dizzying odour of turpentine, immersed as I watch him talk, move and create, as if he is doing something mundane like washing a car or making tea, while in fact, he is producing a magnificent, giant artwork that five months later sold very well in London. It’s somewhat mesmerising to think that living by the sacred river and immortalized in an art studio on a Cycladic island, the subject of The Pilgrim (pictured below) is now gracing someone’s personal space, probably transporting its buyer as he or she observes it, to the dust, pungent aromas, blinding and incandescent chaos of the River Ganges, placing that person in a different spectre, away from ordinary reality, as he or she sits by an old Indian man who is sipping his tea.
“To other countries, I may go as a tourist, but to India, I come as a pilgrim.”
Martin Luther King, Jr
Tom has a long and complex rapport with India, which he talks about in this interview. His Italian wife Ornella is a devoted and accomplished yoga teacher who trains there every year for several months – while she perfects her ‘downward dog’ Asana he photographs and sketches, and sometimes dedicates hours on the yoga mat too. One thing is clear – India has been a powerful and profoundly inspiring destination for both of them, as has their life over many years on various Greek islands, where they have lived year-round, in nature, enjoying a life with their various dogs and cats, fresh air, organically grown produce that in some periods they have grown themselves, and always transformed into something even better by Ornella’s prolific cooking. Although he comes and goes to London and Rome, he is definitely not a city person, and so they manage to maintain some sense of innocence and clarity away from the persistent, muted siren of urban existence. They have strong connections with the local community, and Tom sketches the island’s characters, experiments with varying ideas, techniques and materials, as well as teaching a weekly art class during the summer months, where you will find students aged 12-80.
In this interview, Watson reveals his philosophy and intricate creative process, his ideas about art, his life influences and the crucial development of techniques now and in the past. A huge learning experience for any art lover, and a real treat to anyone who wants to better understand how this engaging and ingenious artist’s mind ticks.
Tom Watson now has an online store: