“Having my works acquired by the Contemporary Art Society for placement at Abbot Hall affirms that as an artist my work has a wider cultural value. I am pleased that my two drawings will be exposed to a new audience in a region which has an interesting history around people of African descent; my wish is that they will form part of an ongoing conversation around belonging and place.”
Charmaine Watkiss, Artist.
Contemporary Art Society has acquired two paintings by Charmaine Watkiss for Abbot Hall, Lakeland Arts. Charmaine Watkiss creates works on paper which explore her extensive research into the diverse cultural heritages of the African Caribbean diaspora. Working mainly with pencil and paper, Watkiss then incorporates other materials such as watercolour and ink to draw out additional layers of meaning and fields of reference. Her recent work has focused on the interconnectivity between history, botany, and cosmology. While she draws her life-sized images from reference portraits of herself, they are not self-portraits; rather, they are characters with which to navigate her ideas.
Tenacity Serves the Warrior Well and Warriors Inhabit Mind, Body and Spirit are part of the Plant Warrior series created for Watkiss’ first solo exhibition, The Seed Keepers. Born in London to Jamaican parents, this body of work delves into her botanical inheritance and explores the spiritual properties of herbs which are traditionally used for holistic healthcare. Each Plant Warrior is a physical embodiment of these properties and manifests these spiritual attributes in human form. Tenacity Serves the Warrior Well is a representation of ginger. The ginger flower can be seen as a detailed collar. It evokes the lace which adorned the necks of Victorian women and connects Watkiss’ work with 19th century botanical illustrations. The woman in Warriors Inhabit Mind, Body and Spirit is a representation of aloe vera. Known as the ‘Single Bible’ in Jamaica, aloe vera is seen as the most spiritually evolved of all plants because of its versatility.
Each warrior resonates with existing themes in the Lakeland Arts collection, particularly the pieces at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House. The Arts and Crafts Movement’s advocacy of reconnecting to nature and use of symbolism and mythologies inherent within the natural world to inform design and pattern will provide a meaningful context in which to display Watkiss’ work. The two warriors also find resonance in the works on paper collection, which numbers over 3000 objects and includes recent acquisitions by Emma Stibbon which explore the impact of climate change.
Charmaine Watkiss (b. 1964, London) lives and works in London. A solo exhibition of her work was recently held at Tiwani Contemporary Gallery (2021). Recent group exhibitions include British Museum (2022); Royal Academy, London; Carl Freedman Gallery, Margate (both 2021). She was shortlisted for the 198 Gallery Women of Colour Award (2020) and the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize (2019). Her art is held in several public collections, including The British Museum, The Government Art Collection, Cartwright Hall, Bradford.