Sydney Jill Watnick
New York, NY
Kenyon Class of ’14, Studio Art and American Studies double major
Was it for this I uttered prayers
And sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs,
That now, domestic as a plate,
I should retire at half-past eight?”
–Edna St. Vincent Millay
I can’t sit still. I fidget constantly and walk clumsily. But mostly I paint. When I paint, I move around. I work all at once, large brush strokes on larger surface. I move to another time. I recall places I visited, people I have danced with, dresses I once wore, and the colors of candles I blew out. It is not just my feet that can’t pause but my head as well.
I can’t stop remembering. I am a storyteller propelled by the thrill of constant activity. My paintings are memoirs, not of major moments but of little mementos, snapshots skewed and refined. Snapshots of memory, organized thematically. Chronology has always escaped me. Growing up with undiagnosed learning disabilities and vision impairments, my visual imagination was choppy, always blurry and ever unfocused.
I used to take pictures but the lens got too small. Though this iteration of my story is not photographic it is deeply influenced by the presence of the camera. I set up paintings as I once set up models. Similar to Cindy Sherman, I am the model and the maker. I play all the roles. In doing so, I conflate portraits of youth with “selfies” of the now, the college years. In these autobiographical narratives, I call upon shared moments of vulnerability, changeability, and adaptability.
My work is rooted in contemporary understandings of color and abstraction. I need to engage with rich pigments and unexpected textures. In pushing images towards abstraction, I am able to better examine the tactility of memory and recognize the salience of the mind in creating sensory and sensational images. In this body of work, I attempt to transform and even transgress normalized notions of contemplating, dreaming, remembering and relating.
My paintings moderate the conversation between the viewer and myself. The works translate, extrapolate from, and reiterate the presence of the mental photo album eroded within all of us.
For a moment, the audience can unhinge from the present, and topple forward into my fantastical stream of thoughts and reflect on their own meaningful experiences of memory as well. They can sit at the kid’s table and see the vast and multicolored world from three feet off the ground. I may be growing up (as an artist, as a woman) but I am sure I will never be grown up.
— Sydney Jill Watnick, ‘14
I love this and I love your statement. I googled “Art and American Studies” because I am halfway through that degree myself and just wanted to read from someone else who had already done it. This gives me hope. Keep creating. It’s refreshing and validating to read about someone with a similar way of thinking and doing. All our memories and dreams and experience just fills the canvas, or paper or composition in a beautiful, sometimes effortless way. I just really loved reading this.