“My work focuses on the representation of the human figure” – A Conversation with Acclaimed Jamaican Sculptor, Basil Watson

Basil Watson

Basil Watson was born and educated in Jamaica. He is a graduate of the Edna Manley College of the Visual & Performing Arts located in Kingston, Jamaica and has established himself as the country’s preeminent sculptor creating numerous public sculptures which are erected in various locations across the island.

In 2002 he immigrated to the USA and established his studio in Atlanta, GA from which he has gone on to create public works for international locations including China, Guatemala, and the USA.

Most recently Basil created monumental works for his island home honoring accomplished Jamaican athletes, like Olympic champions Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce along with others, and cultural icons like The Hon. Louise Bennett as well as the National Heroes.

In 2016 he was honored by the Jamaican Government being awarded the Order of Distinction for his contribution to the arts.

Basil is currently working on a 12ft sculpture of Dr. Martín Luther King Jr. for the city of Atlanta. We caught up with Basil as he was preparing for his Awakening Exhibition in Miami.

Basil Watson, Jamaican Sculptor

Basil Watson, Jamaican Sculptor

Where in Jamaica are you from?
I am from Kingston, the capital city of Jamaica, where I spent the first 44 yrs of my life and career. I came to the United States in 2002.

Tells us about your work on your upcoming exhibition “AWAKENING
My work focuses on the representation of the human figure. Through the exploration of the language of the figure, I explore the emotions and spirit of my subjects, seeking the naked truth above all. I have worked assiduously at developing technique, and knowledge of the human figure, but most of all, an intrinsic understanding.

The bigger picture of my work attempts to find the connection within humanity as well as the universality of humanity. Some of my work draws a connection with the figure and the landscape, editing to reflect the undulations of Mother Nature.

In the current exhibition “AWAKENING” I try to connect not just the beauty but also the strength and power of women in asserting their position in the world. It is an awakening of a gender, of nations, of races, of classes of people to recognize that they, the nurturers of life are supreme and central to our existence where we have more in common than différences.

Basil Watson Jamaican Sculptor - sculpture 1

How did you become interested sculpturing?
My father being an artist/painter I grew up around art and at an early age, I developed a love for drawing that only grew through high school. From high school, I went directly to college to study art, and that’s where I found sculpture.

What is your process when you are doing a sculpture/statue of a person? Do you gather all the photos you can of that person an study them?
If I have the opportunity to meet with the person, then that would be my first approach and then take my own photos if possible. It is also my preference to have the person sit for a session if the person is available. However, if all of this is not possible, I use a variety of photos from as many angles as possible. On occasion, I have also found readings and speeches helpful in determining the ethos of the person. It is always the objective to develop some type of connection with the person.

Recently you were commissioned to do a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Statue. When will it be unveiled?
Dr. MLK Jr. sculpture is well on the way with the final model being recently approved. I am expecting the final large scale work to be completed, installed, and unveiled sometime next year.

Basil Watson Jamaican Sculptor - sculpture 2

You have done sculptures/statues of quite a few famous people, including Jamaican athletes. What has been your most challenging sculpture/statues?
They all present their own particular challenge, whether it be engineering, technical, artistic, or otherwise. I would probably say “Usain Bolt” it had all the above-mentioned challenges. Usain being such a contemporary and iconic figure the demands and expectations were quite extraordinary.

Are you are a self-taught artist, or do you have a formal education?
I did a 4 year degree course at the Edna Manley College of the Visual Arts (Jamaica School of Art) graduating with honors.

Basil Watson Jamaican Sculptor - sculpture 3

What stimulates your imagination best?
I draw my inspiration from nature as a whole, but people are my main inspiration with the female form and psyche being most interesting and stimulating.

How do you define art?
I can only define art as it relates to me. The search for and expression of the fundamental truths of life.

Tell us about the other projects you are working on?
The past few years have been very full. I am finishing the last two of four athletes being honored by the people of Jamaica for their outstanding achievements. This started with Usain Bolt, then Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and soon Veronica Campbell-Brown and finally Asafa Powell will be installed. These larger than life-sized sculptures are all erected at the National Stadium of Jamaica bring to a total of seven such statues that I will have at this venue. Between these projects, I also did heroic sized busts of the 7 Jamaican National Heroes and, a favorite of mine, “Miss Lou,” who is an internationally acclaimed poet and cultural icon of Jamaica.

Basil Watson Jamaican Sculptor - sculpture 4

Basil Watson

What do you do for fun (apart from sculptures/statues)?
I am an avid sportsman and sports fan. I played competitive soccer but do more watching now, and for the past 40yrs, I have been an avid student, competitor, and teacher of karate. I hold the rand of 6th Degree Black Belt.

What technology you cannot live without?
The only thing that I couldn’t live without is my studio, but like everyone else, I am quite attached to my smartphone that has opened up so much of the world to me.

If you were not an artist, what would you be?
I contemplated architecture, but I would have loved to be a professional soccer player, or maybe I might have become a full-time teacher of karate.

Seven days, six-night, all-expense paid, my vacation destination is…
So much of the world to see and experience. I am fascinated by people and cultures, and I have been to some awesome places, but Africa in all its vastness and diversity has so much for me to explore.

Any final thoughts?
Art/sculpture has opened so many doors and connected me with so many diverse people from all corners and sectors of the society and the world. Everyone has time for the artist, and this is the greatest gift that life has given me.

About the author

Xavier Murphy