Nestled in a giant warehouse in Greenpoint, is a vast fluorescent lit studio with rows upon rows of floral supplies running its length for the company that cohabits the space with our featured artist: nature-inspired sculptor, Christina Watka. The place is cavernous, with more than ample space for Christina to create her Root System series while still leaving more than three quarters of the space free for hundreds of floral arrangements and a wandering studio cat. A large skylight takes up half of her overhead space, a makeshift wall easel sits in the background for her once a year painting endeavors and her sculpting tools are housed at a charming workbench nearby. Distant rock music coming from the studio next door is mellowed out by the soothing jazz rhythms coming from her own sound system.
Contrasted with this space is Christina herself, diminutive and bright, she exudes warmth and creative energy. Because she does large scale, site specific installations, the studio was mostly devoid of any of her finished work. Instead, she brought to us a small shoe box, which held her next installation project, which once installed would measure 5 by 8 feet. Her sculptural forms are predetermined in the studio but are then manipulated on site as the environment speaks to her. We first came across Christina's sculptures while perusing the online gallery that represents her work, Uprise Art. The organic nature of her pieces made perfect sense for our beach town project and our collaboration to make the Root Sculpture Series work in the space was a huge success. Read our interview below to find out what drives this talented artist:
Pick one: rock climbing, bungee jumping, hang gliding, base jumping or kite surfing:
When did you choose art as a career and why? I always felt compelled to create.
Luckily, I have a family that supports my every dream, and I was always encouraged to do what my heart told me. I just never doubted it. I also love the hustle, so working hard for what I love never feels like work to me. It's a natural drive.
Was there ever an alternative career choice? If yes, what was it?
For a while, I pursued the idea of becoming an interior designer, but that dream quickly faded. I found that designing spaces was not as thrilling as creating work that would interrupt those spaces and create a mood with installation or sculpture. I also work as a florist and floral installation artist right now, and while it may be considered a separate career, I find that the materials and tools I use in that work help inform my artwork. It's a seamless relationship. One encourages the other. The only difference is that one art form has a distinct lifetime, and the other will surpass my lifetime.
What was the first art work that you sold? How did that sale make you feel?
The first piece I sold was actually a portrait of Marilyn Monroe that I painted with my mouth using different shades of lipstick. It was an art school piece, and it made it into a student show in a Boston gallery. When I arrived for the opening, it had a sold sticker on it. I was over the moon! Who knew that people would want to own something that I made with my mouth?
Who is your favorite visual artist?
Doris Salcedo. Judy Pfaff. Tara Donovan. Can't pick just one. There are more!
What or who inspires you and why?
My grandmother inspires me--she has a vigor for life that I admire. The wind inspires me. Still water, piles of stones, the leaves on trees that decide to change when everything else is still green all inspire me. Reflected light. The sound of whispering. I guess I feel inspired by things that make you stay still and be quiet. Perhaps it is because I am here in noisy NYC. Who knows? I love stillness.
We did get a glimpse of her process: from painted foraged bits from the park to new ceramic tests to glazed beauties ready for install. Interestingly enough, the physical movement of her work, from home, to kiln, to studio, to installation site, very much mirrors the immediate impression you receive from her murmuration sculptures, which bring to mind birds of flight, and continuous, undulating movement.
Pick one: cons, vans, pro-keds or jordans
HA. Not going to lie, I had to look up most of these to remind myself of the difference. I'd be barefoot all the time if I could. Vans!
Did you always know that you wanted to do sculpture?
Yes. When I started discovering my love for art, I played around with space immediately. I loved the way that you could navigate your viewers through different sensory experiences. Shake up the way that they were used to experiencing work....pull their gaze down an entire wall, force them to look up, to see a wall covered in shadow systems that are just as important as the material that casts them. I also loved how sculpture and installation changed throughout the day, depending on natural light or other people in the room.
Pick one: bike, car, bus, train.
You have the total freedom to determine your own artistic direction. How do you arrive at the point where you commit to a theme or idea?
I usually find a shape or color that I want to work with, and then I play around with materials and figure out what combination feels best to me. I leave little physical sketches all over my workspace so that I can see them everyday and let them tell me how they want to work. Usually, I can't get a good feel until I make lots of little things and just play with them. Abundance is key. I had a really tough sculpture professor, and her voice still rings in my head when I am working. "Never go into a space without enough stuff. Always have too much----you cannot be restricted by your materials." She also did things like pull my installations off of the wall to see how they felt that way. I used to stay inside my pre-determined boundaries too often. She forced me out of my comfort zone and reminded me to play. The work is never really finished. I always had that inner kid in me, but fear kept me from playing. Now, I always remind myself to keep an open mind. Most mistakes are gold. When you get too comfortable, you have to shake yourself out of it. Take risks. These things are almost always true. I'm dealing with the comfort thing right now. Gotta shake things up and start looking at the work upside down. Try something new.
Has your cultural background influenced your art?
I am many different things, but the Finnish (Watka) design in me must come through in my affinity for patterns found in nature, simple, evocative design, and color.
At what time of the day/month/year do you work best?
Morning for the quiet light and pure mind. Autumn for the color and for the elements. Also for the coffee. There's some strange connection between coffee and ideas, isn't there?
What is the most unconventional material you've used in your work?
My deceased grandfather's collared shirts.
Do you ever think about where a piece will end up and does that influence the outcome of the art?
All the time. I prefer to know where it will end up. Installation makes space necessary. It's all about the space. Site specific work is the most exciting work. In fact, many people ask me if I can make an installation on a large board that I can ship to them, but I always say "no." I learn a lot from the space, and I find that the artwork is most successful when I can create it on site, with the rest of the space in mind.
What country/state/city/neighbourhood do you live in? How did you end up there?
USA/NY/NYC/East Village. My husband and I moved to NYC from Boston three years ago, because Boston had too many rules and restrictions for what we wanted to do creatively. He is a jazz musician, so both of us felt the natural pull to come here. We have never looked back. This is the place to be.
Any upcoming shows/exhibits to mention?
Not at the moment. Many possibilities, but nothing confirmed yet.
If you have 24 hours left to live, what would you do with it?
I would have a giant 24 hour dance party on the beach in the middle of nowhere with all of my friends and family and their dogs. We would eat well, drink well, swim in the sea, experience the sunset and sunrise, and play music all night long.