An Artist that needs no introduction would be Alston Watson. He’s a Photographer, Painter, and when he’s not making moves he tweets like the rest of us. I interviewed Alston and we’re getting into his beginnings, his art, and social media!
For those who have been living under a rock on social media, who are you? – I’m an artist from North Carolina and self-proclaimed genius. I do a lot of things professionally, but mainly tweeting depression memes.
How’d you start down the path to creating art? – I didn’t start until senior year of high school. Even then though, I had only taken 1 elective type art class, so I was barely trained. My AP studio art teacher was a pretty successful art director and eventually convinced me to apply to Pratt and NYU for art, the latter of which I ended up at. I feel like I’ve always had a creative and dexterous mind, but I just started making “real” art recently. Every week it feels like I’m starting over.
As a kid, did you see yourself becoming an artist? – I always wanted to be a chemist. In middle and high school though I did dream of being a great writer, too. I considered a physics major here at NYU for bit when I was studying film. I would’ve never guessed I’d be drawing weird lines “for a living” so to speak.
What was the jump from North Carolina to NYU like? – Adjusting to the city was fairly easy, but learning to be socially independent and active and balancing work/outside projects/class was incredibly stressful. It’s still hard and has been more about mental growth and fortitude than adjusting to the geography and culture. Being here still feels like a transition period so hopefully I can find a good home base soon or make my home here in New York.
Do your surroundings inspire certain themes or styles you want to convey in your art? – Not really, I don’t think. People inspire me the most often, and cartoons. New York inspires a certain type of urgency and energy, but that hasn’t translated into affecting my style that much really. My work focuses on human sentiment, so I’m usually hypersensitive to people rather than my environment.
Does your perception of people in real life differ from how you perceive them in your art? – It’s usually the same I think. I take representation really seriously, so I try to portray people in the sincerest manner possible. The energy in the work always reflects how I feel about people – whether specific people or humanity in general. I’m always in design thinking/critical thinking mode so I like to think that I’m always perceiving with the same active mind and with the same set of sensibilities.
How do your family and friends take in your art and you being in NY? – I think they’re proud of me at the very least. If the internet has seen about 15% of my work, then my friends and family have seen maybe 5-10%. It’s weird, for a first-generation artist, my work is really independent of my familial relationships and stuff. Which is ironic I think, given that I care so much about those relationships and how a similar bond is iterated in my relationships with others. As far as being in the city, it sucks to be so far away, so it’s bittersweet on both ends. This is developmental period though, so there are pros and cons. It seems to be going pretty decently so far.
What’s an average day for you like? – Pretty chill usually. I get up early every day at 7am, even on weekends. I’ll go to class if I have it. I work in the mornings on campus as a designer for the university. After work and class I just come home and practice usually. I draw all day and I paint when I’m home. I watch a lot of anime and Netflix originals. Constantly tweeting, too. I eat hella McGriddle’s and smoke like thrice a day. I’m always working on something, too, even though I told myself I would be slowing down.
Have you experienced the New York creative scene in your time there? – I have definitely, but not the scene that everyone dreams of. I’m not too big a part of the underground indie youth art scene actually, even though a lot of my peers are. I’m definitely more in the traditional lane with more experience as far as traditional art institutions and conventional gallery representational structure go. It’s been hectic, off putting at times, but certainly educational. I often find myself a bit lost, but I think I’m doing the right things.
What have been some highs and lows in your artist career so far? – Highs have definitely been working with Art Hoe Collective, being included in the “Top Emerging Contemporary Illustrators” book by Crooks Press, and being nominated for the National Arts Club student show. Pretty much every other day is a low because I’m super depressed but actually nothing really bad has happened to me as far as my career goes. It’s just really expensive and I’m super anal about the quality of my materials, so it’s even more expensive.Congratulations on those wins! Who inspires you to keep going ahead with your art and what are some things who’ve learned along the way since you’ve gotten started on your journey? – My friends and family inspire me. All of my favorite rappers do, too. I’ve definitely learned more about myself regarding how I think and how I react to certain situations. I’ve learned a lot about solitude vs. loneliness, but also empathy as a result of my artistic practice. I’ve learned to persevere, but to also rest and self-care when necessary. It’s been a great developmental period that’s paralleled turning 20 years old nicely.
If you weren’t an artist what would you be doing? – I think I’d be an engineer or an architect. Maybe an astrophysicist, even. I’m still interested in those things now while being an artist.
What’s on the schedule for your 2017? – So far, I have the National Arts Club student show April 6th, Resist art show with Art Hoe Collective on March 25th, and Operation Consent March 28th. I’m going to Berlin for study abroad this summer too. Hopefully I’ll get into some summer shows overseas. In December, the Top Emerging Contemporary Illustrators book comes out. It’s looking like a good year!
Did you ever think your art would blow up to the magnitude that it has so far? – I definitely didn’t expect it. Art is one of the few things that I’ve gotten really interested in that I’m not necessarily naturally talented at. It’s taken a lot of work. I never really feel like I’ve “blown up”, though. To me it just feels like I draw some stuff every day and like 5 or 6 people are like “Oh, that’s cool.” Maybe that’s because I have so many long lasting mutual relationships on the internet, so it never really feels like an “audience” per se rather just people who’ve known me for a little while. I’m sure that’ll change if more people engage with my work though.
How has social media changed the way you go about sharing and exploring different avenues for your art and different ventures? – It’s definitely exposed me to a lot of other artists, which has been incredibly important. Since I didn’t gain my followers primarily from art related things, it allows me to workshop ideas with a lot of people, and see what people like that I myself don’t like and vice versa. I still get more opportunities outside of social media in the real world, but social media has been a great platform to have on call when I’m just grinding out new ideas and trying new things.
Who are some of your artistic inspirations? – A lot of rappers and fashion designers, and honestly not many (if any) other fine artists. If I had to make a list it would be like Kanye, Raf Simons, Rick Owens, Young Thug, and maybe Basquiat. The cool thing to me is that I like all of them and they inspire me but nothing I make has ever/will ever look like theirs. I think part of having a design mind is being able to connect your inspirations in ways that may be imperceptible to others, with communication ironically being the end goal.
To wrap up, what do you want people to get out of seeing your art? And what are some words of wisdom you’d like to leave with other creative out there that’ll read this? – I want people to learn empathy and learn to be emotive, on the sentimental side of things. When it comes to technical practice, I would want people to learn about line economy and color theory and the essence of economic design and communication. How can you say as much as possible with as little as possible, you know? As far as words of wisdom, I would just say stay true to yourself and never stop learning. One of your primary functions as a cognizant living organism is to learn and pass down information, so do it. If you’re in art school, always remember that you’re not bound to what you’re taught. Love people. Read more philosophy, write more philosophy, and stop redrawing cartoon characters it makes me want to die.