Johan Westenburg - aug 2014

Gunslingers and comics both need a deft touch; a light, sure hand for shooting accurately and the ability to know intimately the weak spot of one’s target.  Werner Watty has this quality as well; his paintings and drawings present nature and the detritus of daily life with a rare representational accuracy and a sure knowledge of his viewer.


Born in 1952, Werner’s youth was spent along the promenade of Ostend’s famous coastline in Belgium.  As a young man, he was constantly exposed to the post-war ‘beau monde’ of a quickly fading elite as Ostend lost is charms for the Belgian aristocracy and its hangers-on.  Nonetheless, there was - as there still is - a unique art scene that seduces virtually every Belgian painter at one time or another.  It is not difficult to imagine how artists were drawn to the terrace of the Cafe du Parc on a sunny summer day to size up the competition and scope out potential clients who might pay a visit to an atelier or gallery.  So it comes as no surprise that making art was a natural desire for Werner. No matter how difficult the economic and social circumstances of Belgium during the late nineteen-seventies, he was compelled to create. 


In 1977, Werner debuted with a solo exhibition in Bruges which paved the way for international group shows in the former East Bloc as well as the Netherlands and France.  An award from the Flemish government provided the funds for a three month sabbatical to New Zealand which culminated in a solo show in Auckland.  Each year of work delivered further refinement of his technical skills and the regional character of the Flemish art scene provided an audience attuned to Werner’s wry sense of humour and nuanced word-play. 


I met Werner’s son in a cafe on the boulevard in Ostend in the waning winter months of 2013.  The light was bleak, the cloud cover metallic grey, as the night rolled in from the east.  Sitting at the long table in the soft light of Zakia’s Beau-Site, Pepijn sat close to his pregnant wife as he spoke with passion and affection for the work of his father.  My spirits were buoyed to have an opportunity to meet artists and make contacts in my new hometown. 


My first visit to Werner’s atelier was memorable; there were no moody sea-scapes, no vaguely surrealistic set-pieces, no manic dramas. Nothing of Spilliaert, Delvaux or Ensor but something new and unseen; refined drawing and precise painting in the service of word-games and optical play.  As Werner smoked his cigarette and spoke of his work as we flipped through canvases and drawings, I could only think of Lucky Luke, the Belgian comic-book character who disarms rather than kills with deadly accuracy.


A dominant characteristic of Werner’s practice is the striving for accurate rendering.  Foute Reeks (Wrong Sequence) illustrates this beautifully; twenty-eight wooden matchsticks neatly arrayed in an arrangement that suggests order and logical sequencing but, upon closer inspection, reveals a flaw.  A one-legged Pinocchio, precise paintings of wallpaper, colored drawings of ceramic seedling pots and painstakingly accurate paintings of twigs; the entire corpus underscores Werner’s technical mastery and reveals a rueful awareness of the fragile, impermanent and illusory nature of the material world.


In 2014, Werner returned his focus to the production of three-dimensional objects.  Always deeply involved with integrating the ‘real’ and the ‘illusory’, Werner spent years playing with twigs and branches which he culled, among other places, from a neighbor’s pear tree.  Memory is as much about re-creation as it is about destruction and while the pear-tree paintings embrace the act of re-creation, Werner’s recent clay works obliterate the material of the pear-tree.  What remains suggests a palimpsest; the old information is wiped away in the kiln and the void induces new possibilities.  Like the gunsliger and the comic; Werner’s found his target before you know it.

Johan Westenburg - Oostende, August 2014