Thomas Watkiss is a multi-disciplinary artist interested in creating environments through sound and painting.
In his visual work, Watkiss builds ecosystems where species find themselves in a range of territories. With a vivid range of color, the scenes allow the viewer to consider what climate acceleration may feel like one for species other than their own. An underlying goal is to give the viewer the means to re-examine their own relationship with the natural world. Often vertically oriented, the works begin as meditative spaces where tonality builds from gravity to atmosphere. The result is often a picture that can feel familiar yet foreign where structures and species may manifest. The paintings are created from his trips within wilderness areas where he spends time filming and recording -- specifically in the North East of the United States where he is originally from. Interactions of the local, natural world caught on camera and recording are set against backdrops often based from photos of his travels ranging from Scandinavia to South America. Placing the species into scenes on canvas allows for a pivot in their transformation as they emerge in new and unfamiliar territories -- from lush utopian surroundings to dystopian abysses set the scene for characters to emerge and extend the imagination of the audience.
In his sound work, a similar approach is taken where the experience is built on bass frequencies where his field recordings meet dissonant guitars to create unfamiliar spaces for the audience. He has recorded six full-length albums where his photos illustrate the experience on a range of formats. The first full length release, Ancestor - Phase I : Silence set the scale of ambition with a hand-numbered double album experience where his photography paired with 12 ambient instrumental tracks on the vinyl format. He has performed in eleven countries and is currently finishing a four year transatlantic collaboration which started at BC Studios in Brooklyn and continued to Stockholm. He has shown at Black Diamond Gallery (New York), Garfield Artworks (Pittsburgh), Gallery XIV (Boston) and Stiftelsen 3,14 (Bergen, Norway). He has completed residencies at ElektronMusikStudion (EMS) in Stockholm (2023 & 2019), Listhus, Olafsfjordur Iceland (2016), USF Verftet, Bergen Norway (2008) and Konstepidemin, Gothenburg Sweden (2003). He holds an MA from Konstfack University of Art and Design (Stockholm) and a dual BA from the University of Pittsburgh.
He lives and works in New York City.
The works serve as "environments of emergence" - places where species find themselves acclimating to a range of unfamiliar territories and temperatures. Themes reflecting a concern for the natural world stem from a history as an environmental activist and as a former student of ecology, I believe that making art is the most effective way of communicating immediacy of this issue. A large amount of time goes into gathering and observing nature in real-time, on location. My practice begins with layout of possible outcomes and concludes with frames of an evolving series of work.
The paintings are created from time spent within wilderness areas where I film and record natural habitations, specifically in the mountain and river ecosystem of Western Pennsylvania, where I am originally from. I introduce flora and vegetation from other areas I have worked and lived including Scandinavia, The American West and the Amazon Basin.
The works intend to communicate a sense of adaptation -- a feeling shaped by years of expatriation and displacement which invoked an immediate need to create. The titles of the works (Akureyri, Oslo, Rovaniemi) reflect places in which I have developed my practice, and the birds represent a fundamental interest in transcend human limitations of territory. I am motivated to illustrate a confrontation of the isolationist burden of citizenship to the United States in search of new definitions of existence beyond identities based on meritocracy and authoritarianism towards a new and profound place that would value ecosystem over economy.