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Liselotte Watkins on the aesthetics of womanhood

As a series of her artworks are exhibited at the COS Biblioteksgatan concept store in Stockholm, we meet artist Liselotte Watkins.

Lonely Hunter I, 2022 by Liselotte Watkins. Image courtesy CFHILL and the artist.

‘I’ve always been really interested in the way women look and move’, says Liselotte Watkins (she/her) from the 19th-century farmhouse in the hills of Tuscany where she now lives and works.

Born in the coastal town of Nyköping, 100km south of Stockholm, Liselotte’s fascination with the representation of women began at a young age. ‘I can remember very clearly watching movies with Marilyn Monroe and then drawing her’, she says. ‘And from there I just started drawing women a lot. But I really had nobody to tell me anything about art, so it was whatever I came upon.’

Inspired by discovering female painters like Tamara de Lempicka, she moved to Texas at the age of 17 to attend art school. Settling in New York in the 1990s she found her calling when a friend suggested she send her fashion illustrations to The New York Times. ‘To be working in fashion during that time in my early 20s when the fashion world was a lot more open was very inspiring’, says Watkins.

After working for titles such as ELLE and Vogue she moved to Milan in 2008 to concentrate on making art before settling in Rome. There she began to focus on the Cubist-inspired collages of empowering women that now adorn the walls of the COS store in Biblioteksgatan.

Created on both canvas and recycled ceramics, Liselotte’s examinations of strong women through her characteristic shapes and colour are as enigmatic as they are vibrant. In one of the most striking works on display at the store, a winged female wielding a sword stamps on a snake curled around her feet.

The gallery-like minimalist space of COS’ more sustainably designed concept store is the perfect backdrop for Liselotte’s art. ‘This series of five prints is an exclusive for COS’, says Watkins. ‘They just let me do whatever I wanted to. And to be able to work like that is a real luxury. So I’m very happy with the way it’s all worked out.’

Lonely Hunter II, 2022 by Liselotte Watkins. Image courtesy CFHILL and the artist.

EARLY INSPIRATIONS

‘I had a very Swedish, pragmatic and practical upbringing, so I wasn’t really concerned about how I looked or dressed but I became fascinated in the appearance of other women. I didn’t really have a style in my art so I just started to trace magazine clippings and drew a lot from whatever I could find. I went to the library to source a wider range of books. I used to cut imagery out of magazines to stick on my wall and created collages that I would use for my drawings.’


WORKING WITH CERAMICS

‘When I discovered I could draw and paint on ceramics it was inevitable the female form would come back in my work because in the vessels the body is already there. So, I started finding these old jugs and pots at flea markets and began painting on them. And that is when I really started to focus even more on the colours. Working with ceramics changed the canvas for me and allowed me to be more experimental and things became more forgiving.’


HOW ITALY CHANGED HER

‘Italians are very good at seeing the little things and that starts to make you look at things in a different way. All your senses here are heightened somehow, from the smells of all the food to the awareness of colour.

‘My aesthetic is a combination of what I like to draw and what I find interesting in the appearance of women. I always look for that edge.’

HER SWEDISH ROOTS

‘Although I only lived in Sweden as a child, I still view myself as very Swedish. I am a very nostalgic Swede and think of the country as it was in the 1970s when I was a kid. When we go to Sweden for the summers now my children see a modern country that is very technological and fast so that is very different to the way I view Sweden.’


THE PULL OF HISTORY

‘We lived in Rome for six years and it’s very difficult to avoid all the history, as it’s right there in front of you. All of that Greek and Roman mythology feels very close. You have to step up your knowledge and I think that’s what got me into all the mythological stuff. I mean you have to know about Dante otherwise people just think you are ignorant!’


THE BEAUTY OF DIFFERENCE

‘When I started drawing people I was never really interested in “pretty pretty”. The models I would be attracted to were always the ones that would have an unconventional face shape or funky hair; I was always looking for that little quirky, funny kind of thing and that became my aesthetic in my drawing. It’s a combination of what I like to draw and what I find interesting in the appearance of women. I always look for that edge.’

Lonely Hunter III, 2022 by Liselotte Watkins. Image courtesy CFHILL and the artist.

Lonely Hunter IV, 2022 by Liselotte Watkins. Image courtesy CFHILL and the artist.

FANTASY IN HER ART

‘I have created these little fantasy worlds for as long as I can remember. There is something comforting for me to put these different references together, going through memories and ideas and creating these fantasies. This work for COS is loaded with all these references but it doesn’t really matter if you get them or not. I really like the idea that people bring their own imagination to the work.’


HER OLD SCHOOL WAYS

‘I find inspiration from the same kind of things I did when I was young. I still adhere to the rule of trying to research the images on paper in an analogue way. For example, in books without really using digital tools like Google or anything like that. I gather information the old way by going to flea markets and stores and finding old magazines and vintage books. Holding something in my hand or sticking it on the wall triggers things more in me. Finding a picture in a Rome bookshop of the archangel St Michael slaying the devil with a sword became an inspiration for this COS project.’


ON THE COS PIECES

‘I listen to a lot of history programmes like In Our Time on the BBC and I started getting really into these stories of archangels. Then after seeing that picture in the Rome bookstore I got hooked on St Michael. I was thinking it would be fun to make a hunter woman who lies around on her couch but then goes out and, like St Michael, kills demons. So the inspiration for this was reading a lot of history then thinking about the whole multitasking thing of being a woman and mother.’

Lonely Hunter I, 2022 by Liselotte Watkins. Image courtesy CFHILL and the artist.

QUICKFIRE Q&A 

What was the last exhibition you went to?
I always go to The Galleria Borghese Museum in Rome and went recently as I had just read a big biography about Bellini.

Where would you most like to go on holiday?
I’ve always wanted to go to Charleston in East Sussex, England, to see the Bloomsbury Group house.

What is the best market you’ve ever been to?
The best stuff that I ever found was in the flea market in Chelsea, New York, when I lived at the YMCA there. That is where I got all my Eames chairs that I still have today.

Who is your favourite artist?
Louise Bourgeois.

What is your most treasured collection?
My clippings from old books.



Words by Andy Thomas


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