Modern and Natural Worlds: The Evolution of Davin Watne
It looks quite strange when the modern and natural worlds collide. Like an alligator gut full of aluminum cans or a birds’ nest made of soda straws and bits of dental floss – we think we know what natural looks like. Artist Davin Watne began an exploration of the collision of these two worlds early in his career, but his latest work poses his gaze on a more basic aspect of this dichotomy. Using glamorously cycloptic eyes and a slew of richly hued sculptural pieces, Watne has taken his focus from the literal collision of the modern and natural worlds, slowly seeped out the physical drama, and cast his eyes upon our biology. - Halcombe Miller, Kansas City Contributor
In his earlier work Watne worked primarily with oil to create mesmerizingly awkward clashes of human and nature. His piece The Alien depicts a cougar skulking atop a mangled car left on the side of a dark roadway, begging viewers to question the merging of two disparate images. The car itself looks strange within the dark wilderness of the cats’ natural home, but the clean, paved path beneath the mound of wreckage hints at something deeper: the scene, though unnatural, is expected. Viewers can hearken back to any number of mangled cars left on the highway, but the Bobcats’ presence takes the regularity of the scene and flips it on its side – why is the cougar so close to the car and roadway, or, more appropriately, why are the car and roadway so close to the cougar? But Watne wanted to take his work to a more primeval level eliciting the same disturbing questions, but with an inanimate object. In his piece The Only Thing to Hold on To he presents viewers with a solitary blue cooler floating open-face on its side, its contents lounging in the lid, in a dark sea. The crisp blue cooler dangled in the waters current with the same melancholy of a Christmas tree crisping on the curb after the holidays: it is sad, lonely, and a bittersweet reminder of the joy that once was. But after the images of lake parties and float trips pass, viewers realize how awful the scene is. How many coolers, and their contents, line the bottom of our rivers and lakes? And why is this ok? With these questions Watne eliminates the drama of the literal collision in The Alien and further emphasizes the damage our faceless invasion of the natural world causes. But how much deeper does this invasion go, what if the essence of brains pleasure center was as easily corrupted by the modern world as our flora and fauna?
Watne’s latest work looks at the strangeness of supple faces smiling atop saggy, wrinkled necks and immature skin caked with layers of products by examining the manipulation of our natural instincts, and the assignment of dollar value to our biology, through advertising, marketing and pop culture. What’s more, he sheds light on our culture of consumerism and the role this culture plays in our social connectivity. Within our society we are bombarded with images, and products, that passively tell us we can find both personal and social acceptance by fulfilling social standards of beauty. Watne refers to this phenomenon as “the perversion of biology” and his work exudes this concept. His piece Material Deity utilizes oil as a make-up of sorts to create an enticing symmetrical eye adorned with a crown of fibrous hair, and a glamour-rock infused palate of shimmery color. At first glance the eye is stunning in its perfection, but it is the precision itself that gives the piece its perverted edge. Viewers search the canvas with their own eyes compiling a mental list of qualities we look for, consciously and subconsciously, as we judge another human face for beauty. The light bulge above the eyelid hints at the youthful layer of fat filling in the creases, the gold and pinky-purple shadows shimmer perfectly across the taut brow bone, and the eyebrow, though wiry, is manicured. The youthful feel and symmetry exude our cultural idea of beauty: we would buy this mascara.
But in spite of its inherent splendor, the eye is suspect. Viewers find the eyes shape comforting and disturbing at the same time. Material Deity speaks to the notion that beauty and acceptance can be achieved with perfect facial features and an artificial coating of products, but when nature is manipulated to this extent the result has a contrasting effect: the eye is captivatingly glamorous and palpably untrustworthy. The perversion of our biology may be the strangest collision of the modern and natural worlds, but with this work viewers are able to discern the system they exist within. Watne empowers us all to question our social standards of beauty, the consumer culture that provides the means to fulfill these standards, and the acceptance we believe we receive by participating in the system. Part of what draws our attention to this work it its marketing aesthetic, the glossy magazine ads that inspired it and create the system itself, but despite its connection to unattainable standards and bio-perversion Watne’s work is breathtaking. So take a look, it’s only natural.
Davin Watne is an artist based in Kansas City with an established record of professional achievement. He received his BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and his MFA at Maryland Institute College of Art. He has been awarded the Charlotte Street Foundation Award, ArtsKC Inspiration Grant, Avenue of Arts Municipal Arts Grant, Art in the Loop Public Arts Grant and is a resident of the Studios Inc. Residency Program. Davin holds a fulltime lecturer position at University of Missouri Kansas City where he teaches Painting.
Halcombe Miller is a writer based in Kansas City where she masterminds the blog for Cara and Cabezas Contemporary and scours Midwestern flea markets for ceramic animal figurines.