Julian Watts likes to collect sticks. The artist has a barn full of them, and spends a lot of time searching for new ones on the five-acre property in Alpine, Oregon, where he lives with his partner, three cats, and dog. Sometimes, he’ll carry twigs around with him as he explores the area, which includes a wooden house (“It used to be a creepy hippie tower,” Watts says) and a workshop on top of a hill that opens onto a flower-filled meadow, a vegetable garden, and a bog hemmed in by ash trees. Some of the sticks become the medium for his mystical works, which he chisels and sands by hand into blobby forms that are at once gorgeous and grotesque.
Watts’s move from Oakland, California, to rural Oregon, in 2018, hinted at his Thoreau-like desire for simple living in natural surroundings. The pandemic amplified that longing, leading him to define ‘home” in a different way—extending the margins of the idea from his house into the landscape and the ecosystems around it. This newfound connection to nature has filtered into Watts’s most recent work, created in lockdown during the pandemic, where freakish objects made from wood and alabaster ripple with life and increased fervor, daring you to touch them. They’re all part of “Homelife,” his second solo exhibition at New York’s Patrick Parrish Gallery, on view through Oct. 16. We recently caught up with Watts to discuss how the natural world impacts his work and what he looks for in a good stick.
I imagine the remoteness of your home lends itself to deep introspection. What have you been thinking about lately?
To be honest, I’ve been appreciating what we have by thinking about it less. Every day I try to walk around for at least an hour, or just sit under a tree and try to take advantage of this weird time. I had a hermit lifestyle before the pandemic. So now, I’m focusing on taking in the environment on a deeper level. I’ve been reading a lot of old mystical Zen poetry by people like Stonehouse—he was a Chinese monk whose writing is all about spending time in space in a way that’s really low, down inside your core, and not overthinking things.
Has your heightened connection with your surroundings changed what you look for in a stick?
A lot of it has to do with touch. In collecting sticks and flowers and leaves, it’s not just about visual references. I’m accumulating ideas and research through them, too. I’ll spend a lot of time just carrying sticks around and touching them. It’s a huge part of my design process.
I also think about the material’s relationship with the viewer. While looking at one of my pieces, there’s always a conflicting sense of being repulsed by it and an urge to touch it. That experience is almost as important as the visual aspect of my work.
Can people touch the pieces you exhibit?
Whether they end up touching it or not, they’re probably thinking about it.
Where do the weird shapes in your work come from?
Pinpointing the source of the weirdness—that’s what it’s all about. I think it comes from some of the things we were talking about earlier: giving myself time and space, in a really intentional way, to let my mind wander and make connections. A lot of the weirdness comes from nature. My work often weaves in references to the cosmic, like the moon or the night sky. It also has these really visceral references to the human body on an uncomfortable level. I want to trigger people to think about things in different ways. That’s why a lot of my work looks like a warped bodily form. So they’ll think, Okay, what does this make me feel, and where else can I see these shapes? How do they reference a larger natural process?
Tell me about the role tactility plays in carving an object.
It’s a push-and-pull type of thing. I almost never just start carving a piece of wood and see where it goes. There’s always a plan. It begins with letting my mind go. Then, I’ll do a mock drawing. I take out my sketchbooks and make little drawings—not technical or anything, just cartoon-y scribbles, weird irregular things. I carve from those, trying to capture the hand-drawn quality in the work. As I carve, shape, and remove wood, it starts to guide me.
I can see your hand in every piece you create.
My work is an intensely hands-on thing. I touch every single surface so many times. You get to know the different shapes that way. Machines create simple, flat curves. Sometimes I use power tools to rough things up, but I always finish them with a hand-sanded or hand-carved texture. You can see a lot of that in the pieces in the show. There are little divots and bumps—a surface quality that’s created by hand. That’s an important connection to have. It gives everything a real human energy.
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Flying long distances does a number on our bodies—something that wellness expert Snow Shimazu, founder of the holistic tAir Beautiful, knows all too well. We can credit the grogginess and exhaustion of jet lag to the disruption of our circadian rhythms,Four Seasons New York Downtown spa) works with clients to provide a range of speciality massage and lymphatic cleansing services, but there are also many
Americans spend an average of more than four hours a day on their smartphones—and it’s hardly innocent fun. A new study finds that smartphone addiction can have the same effect on the brain as drug addiction, reducing gray matter and deliv
Artists, chefs, and scientists have long found creative inspiration in mushrooms, and for a variety of reasons. Prized fAdam Fuss—who creates photograms by placing spores on light-sensitive paper and letting them bloom in contact to create an abstra“Mushrooms: The Art, Design, and Future of Fungi,” organized by Francesca Gavin, examines the widespread influence of the humble organism, featuring the work of 40 artistMushroom Book of recipes and observations, artworks by Cy Twombly, and a series of events including a pop-up dinner by chef Skye Gyng
Designer Juliana Huang spent much of her childhood in Taiwan, before moving to Los Angeles after high school. Living halThe Wax Apple—affectionately named after her favorite fruit native to Taiwan—she’s able to share a little piece of her culture with a
When British editor Penny Martin and the creators of BUTT and Fantastic Man launched The Gentlewoman, in 2010, it boldly introduced a new type of “women’s magazine.” Redefining notions of female aspiration and personal sThe Gentlewoman features candid profiles and in-depth interviews with figures across the age, cultural, and professional spectrum—everymini-magazine. Measuring less than 3.5 inches tall, and nearly as thick as it is wide, it’s designed to fit in the palm of your hand,The Gentlewoman’s cover stories to date, including those printed in its earliest (and now rare and sought-after) issues. At once undersIrma Boom fan in your life. With its sleek white cover, it makes for a playful foil to the everyman’s little black book.
Most would associate February with the dead of winter—long past the joy of the holiday season, yet far enough from April72 Seasons. Updated every five days, the average length of each micro-season, the app shares more about this cultural tradition, abrrr!—which is set to continue for the next few days. This is the peak season for red seabream, celery, burdock root, as well
Jewelry designer Monique Péan shares a window into the geologic formations, cosmic artifacts, and natural sciences that inspired her latest series, C
With increasing awareness and reporting on the ongoing climate crisis, we’ve learned more about the top industry offende10 percent of humanity’s carbon emissions and a major consumer—not to mention polluter—of the planet’s water supply. Producing a single pair of jeans requires 2,Inconspicuous Consumption.)
Mudslinging gets a bad rap. But for artist and author Bruce Gardner, an Albuquerque, New Mexico, native, the natural andhikaru dorodango—the Japanese craft of making beautiful spheres from, why yes, mud. While it may sound deceivingly simple, Gardner, who by writer William Gibson in Tate Etc. magazine, details the range of the surprisingly complex and challenging practice in his new book, Dorodango: The Japanese Art of Making Mud Balls (Laurence King). “I am struck by how these objects, created from such a humble material, are the near-perfect expressiondorodango irrevocably completes the transition; dirt is no longer ‘dirty’—it is an art medium.”
Sweater weather begets snuggly blanket weather, and we’re particularly taken by the lush and puffy woolen creations of NRøros Tweed. Named for the 17th-century copper mining town on Unesco’s list of World Heritage sites, the textiles company grew out available in the U.S. through Design Within Reach; you can also find Røros’s wares through the Scandinavian design retailer Fjørn. It’s the perfect warm-and-fuzzy for someone on your nice list.