Fervent upcycler Frauke Watson forages for other people’s waste and turns it into unique and quirky works of art. She tells us about how she has converted her hobby into a career.
How did you become an artist?
In a sense, I have always been an artist. It just took a lifetime to dare to call myself so. I guess most of us artists suffer from impostor syndrome, so this is nothing new.
I suppose what defines us artists is a slightly different view of established reality. I always saw the potential in things, even as a child. Something that was one thing could always morph into something else. This is probably why, ultimately, my favourite medium is trash.
I am that person who can use everything and I am working hard at not becoming a hoarder. My pockets are always full of found treasures and I have always had countless random collections of literally everything you could imagine on the go. These vary. I have become quite good at culling. Sometimes too good… you have something lying around for years and finally throw it out, only to get just the right idea for it a week later.
What/where has influenced your work?
We travel a lot and I am always curious about how other cultures see the world. Folk art is important to me. I believe surrounding yourself by beauty is a basic human need and I am heartened by the ingenuity of people who have little and still manage to create wonderful things with whatever is available.
As much as I love improvisation, I also value good craftsmanship. I am a fan of the Arts & Crafts style and of Art Nouveau as well as Art Deco (and of Steampunk). All of those trends have a fine eye for shape and rhythm, but also a tendency to become over-ornate – and that is also my struggle. I do not mind curlicues and the odd bit of bling, but I also spend a lot of time editing my work and, if necessary, stripping it back. It’s a fine line, always.
Although many people remark on our colourful house, which is full of original art (mine as well as others) family heirlooms, thrift store finds and folk art we picked up on our travels, we try to keep it as simple as possible. I keep an open studio at the Isle of Man Art Festival, where many people have taken inspiration from our very eclectic way of combining colours and styles.
I love modern art, especially Paul Klee, August Macke, Jean Tinguely, Man Ray, to pick just a very few – and most of all Alexander Calder. He is the inspiration for much of my jewellery. And I have a special place in my heart for graffiti in all its guises. My most recent discovery in this respect is the Caribbean artist Jimi Sabas alias MaSh in Art.
If I had to pick one mentor, I would say the Californian artist and architect James Hubbell. When we lived in San Diego in the early 1990s, I spent weekends with him and volunteers from all over the world in the slums of Tijuana, beyond the border in Mexico, helping to build a school with donated materials. It is still thriving, still growing, and a thing of beauty.
You are German, your husband English, your children were born in France and you have lived in a variety of interesting locations. What brought you to the Isle of Man?
My husband is a private aviation manager and consultant and runs his business from the Island. Since my own bread and butter was, until recently, translation, it did not really matter where I work from. I must say that it is one of the best moves of my life. I really love it here.
How does the Island’s landscape and its nature inspire you?
I love to be surrounded by the sea (I am pretty sure we have mer-people somewhere in our ancestry) and the comparative peace and quiet of the green hills, the rocks and the beaches. You can imagine to be in an intact and healthy world. There is also a palpable sense of history all over the Island.
The grief of seeing our beautiful planet ravaged and destroyed by our species’ greed and short-sightedness has been with me ever since I can remember.
My work should therefore always be seen on multiple levels. On the one hand, it is the visual expression of the inherent beauty that lies in all things, and on the other hand it expresses my anger over the fact that nature is slowly and inexorably dying around us through our fault.
So there is always a dark side to my creations, if only by implication. Deep down, however, I think that nature is indestructible – but it is gradually refusing to provide us with a viable habitat. Poetic justice, I suppose…
How do you forage for your materials and plan what you will turn them into?
I am a notorious picker-upper of everything that seems remotely interesting, which is most things really. You normally see me by myself, with my eyes on the ground, or lagging behind a group, trying to keep up while stooping to pick up things from the ground or dashing into the hedges or random skips along the way. Needless to say, the 'Harrods of the West', the Western Civic Amenity Centre, is one of my favourite go-to places for material. And, of course, charity shops.
I rarely have a plan; normally it is the material itself that shouts ideas at me. Sometimes I just pick something up on spec and it sits around for years until just the right idea pops up.
As my work has become more well-known around the Island, people also come up to me, offering me first pick of things that they were planning to throw out.
And as we are still swimming in needless plastic packaging, I try to salvage as much as I can, but frankly I cannot keep up with it all. Too much still goes in the bin.
Where can we see and buy your art work?
You can find me on Instagram and Facebook under my own name as well as on my pages: Frauke Watson Art. I am also selling some of my things on quirky.im
At the last two Isle of Man Art Festivals, I had an open studio in our house in Ballaugh with fellow artist Ronnie Doyle. Both events were successful and I am looking forward to the next one, whenever that may be.
I am a member of the Isle of Man Creative Network and have taken place in joint exhibits and art fairs all over the Island. I also take part in exhibitions at the Hodgson Loom Gallery and I have a few small pieces there on permanent display.
What are your plans?
I am hoping to continue making beautiful things out of unloved and unvalued objects. All my things are originals and they always depend on whatever material is at hand at the time. My subject matter changes accordingly. I work on a small scale and I would not have it any other way. If it’s gone, it’s gone.
Every once in a blue moon, I do go back to successful designs from years earlier, but only when the mood takes me.
One day, this pandemic will be over, venues will open again, and I am looking forward to a joint celebration of all our collective artwork all over the Island.