Generations of Watts are gifted with artistic ability and Andre Watts is no exception. He follows in the footsteps of his grandmother, an artist who studied in France. His father developed his love for art as a woodworker and photographer. The elder Watts later used his graphic design skills as the owner of a T-shirt shop.
Watts recalls growing up in a house with a darkroom and a woodworking tool shed. “For as long as I can remember, art was around me all the time,” he says. A native of Minneapolis, he later moved to Omaha with his family. Watts says he developed a love for art in middle school. His opportunity to make art with his father fed his desire to keep creating. Today, Watts’ artwork showcases pottery and oil painting.
Watts began working with ceramics in the seventh grade. His pottery consists of ceramic pots, bowls and vases made with Minnesota clay. He discovered his love for painting in college. His painting style focuses on seeking a balance between the relationship of lines, space and color. He uses color contrast to showcase limited subject matter.
Music plays a key element in Watts’ paintings. Growing up, his parents used music to entertain their children. He recalls spending Friday and Saturday nights with his family listening to records. As he grew older, the Jimi Hendrix song, “Little Wing,” inspired him to learn to play guitar.
“My family would just hang out and listen to music, Watts says. So, I’ve always had a kind of music bug.”
Watts listens to music while painting, which he says adds a sort of musical movement to his art. In addition to Hendrix, Watts enjoys the music of Nick Drake.
“When I started, I was listening to a lot of music while painting. My style has movement in it that people could interpret as musical.”
Watts also draws inspiration from his students. Watts teaches art to kindergartners through sixth-graders at two schools in Papillion. He always tells his students not to take art too seriously and to have fun.
One of his first paintings was a fruit tree inspired by “The Giving Tree” book and the Nick Drake song, “Fruit Tree.” That piece has now grown into a No. 1-selling collection of fruit tree paintings he continues to produce today.
Watts says he likes to think of his journey in art “as a bit backwards.” His interest in art moved from his start in pottery as a boy, to his painting as a young man.
“I kind of got into painting, and didn’t really know what I wanted to paint. So, when music came around, it was just kind of by accident,” Watts says. “But then the paintings ended up being the thing that allowed me to have the studio.”
Watts secured his studio in downtown Omaha’s Hot Shops by selling his art in a local coffee shop owned by one of his brother’s friends. At his first art show in the studio, Steve Sherman of Louisville Art Gallery stumbled upon a Jimi Hendrix painting tucked in a corner on the floor. Sherman loved the painting and purchased it that day. Sherman came back the next day and asked Watts to do a show at his gallery. To do the show, Watts needed to create 30 paintings. With only about 30 pieces in his collection, Watts saw this opportunity to jumpstart his painting career.
“People are interested in this and maybe I could do it,” Watts says. “The paintings were supposed to be the fun part of it. I was trying to sell the pottery and it kind of flipped.”
Watts’ paintings have been showcased in local Omaha theaters, smaller galleries and Lincoln’s 9th St. Gallery. He also frequently had paintings displayed at Louisville Art Gallery from 2003 to 2012. Today, he primarily exhibits his artwork at Hot Shops’ two annual shows in the spring and during the Christmas season.
The Jimi Hendrix painting now inspires Watts’ recent nostalgia silhouette series. This series features primarily black and white paintings of famous musicians and their lyrics, classic 1980s television and film characters and icons.
“Most recently, I’ve got into this black-and-white pop art kind of pop culture nostalgia. Maybe a throwback to when I was doing black and white photography of my dad,” Watts says. “I’ve always been a contrast guy, so even if there is color, there’s often very bright spots and very rich color spots on my paintings.”
Watts sees this series as a mash-up of pop culture and musical influence with a lot of cult classics from the 1980s and 1990s. He focuses on creating artworks that spark feelings of nostalgia and happiness in the people who see them. He says he has enjoyed creating this new series because of its playful nature and artistic ease.
He hopes to continue the style of this series by creating portraits of his family, a contrast mashup series and a villain series that showcases the good side of these not-so-savory characters.
“There’s a special connection that happens when somebody can look at something and say, ‘Oh my gosh that reminds me of a time in my life when things were different’,” Watts says, “I’m not the best at realism and that’s another avenue to not make it perfectly real.”