Activist, No Longer “Act(ing) As If”

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what I made for the Women’s March on NY

A roaring tsunami of peacefully protesting pink pussy-hatted women (and men! and kids!) washed over the planet last Saturday. I was one drop in that ocean, finally finding my voice after forty-five years of legal adulthood, where I was (mostly) not rocking the boat / being seen but not heard / being a “good girl” instead of a “nasty woman.” I now intend on being an active, not passive, voice in what is a truly terrifying time in our nation’s history.

Here is one tributary of that pink wave, the one I was a part of in the Women’s March On NY.

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I had already been commissioned in the past year to do some activist art for YogaCityNYC. The first was to address sexual harassment in the yoga world, a symbolic illustrative logo to accompany several articles and a community discussion.

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Then came an illustration for a Vagina Scrum)

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and finally, now that the election is over (and the P****Grabber-In-Chief is still whining and tweeting and in denial about his 3 million + loss in the popular vote), this:

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Every week, YogaCityNYC will suggest ways to not go quietly into that abyss,

with “Do This Now!

I was going through some of my art from the early 1970s, tucked in my attic, and discovered a student book published by Parson’s School of Design right at the time I was graduating. Just a few months ago it seemed as quaint as my Beatle scrapbooks. How far we had come! Now, it is au courant, all over again. Take a look.

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That’s nearly one half of a century. We had come so far. We can’t give up that ground.

copyright sharon watts

Parsons School of Design credits:

1/Angelo Foccacio, 2/Bruce Handler, 3/unknown student poster, 4/Tory Ettlinger, 5/Sheryl Saks, 6/Alan Wood, 7/Melissa Schreiber

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Carrie Donovan & The Gray Lady & Me

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In 1991, I was being photographed in front of The New York Times building on West 43rd Street, its globed lamps and distinctive typeface serving as focal points while prompts were called out by the photographer, George Lange. My large art portfolio was wedged under my arm, tight against my leather biker jacket-clad torso. With my Great Aunt Lenora’s crocheted scarf cocooning my neck and a tube skirt snug around my legs, I strode down the block like I owned it. Looking slightly up, my face was captured in a smile, crimped along the edges with a bit of self-consciousness.

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I was chosen by The New York Times fashion editor Carrie Donovan—a character right out of the Audrey Hepburn classic film Funny Face—for a Sunday Magazine feature story about Manhattanites deemed to have personal style. Carrie, in her ubiquitous black and leopard prints and super-sized accessories, saw me once a week in whatever ensemble I had thrown together that day; I was also the illustrator she had chosen for her By Design column that appeared Tuesdays in the newspaper’s Style section.

I would enter the mythic, monolithic building from the street and head over to a line-up of phones on a marble ledge, waiting to be called into their roles as liaisons with people higher up in this bastion of journalism. Dialing Carrie’s extension, I passed the receiver to a security guard, then got the nod to go through the turnstiles and over to the elevators. Once I landed on nine, I made my way through a moat of bullpen cubicles, then was given the signal and admittance to Carrie’s inner sanctum. Now I would experience the heady feeling of being the center of her universe for ten minutes, as I presented my art for her approval.

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“This is divine!” she might warble.

Or “Hmmm, don’t you think it’s just a bit de trop?”

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Sometimes, if she was just finishing up the story, I had to do the job entirely on the spot. This last minute deadline would send me around the corner to the design department to borrow art supplies and a surface to work on, a pearl-encrusted fashion gun to my head.

My weekly gig was fun, sometimes stressful, but most of all, a fulfillment of destiny. I had promised myself when I was a teenager that I would one day be in The New York Times. I had meant my artwork, but here I was, like Marlo Thomas in That Girl, and Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in love with my job, my life, and most of all, my city.

I did this for nearly a decade, during which time Carrie eventually retired and passed the reins of By Design to Anne-Marie Schiro, and The Gray Lady went to color. I still was making my weekly rounds, in person.

That wasn’t Carrie’s final act, however. She went on to be a surprise hit in Old Navy TV ads.

On November 12, 2001, Carrie passed away. I hadn’t noticed, hadn’t realized, hadn’t wondered until much later. I was too caught up in post-9/11 and missed her obituary. When I found out, I was dismayed that this grande dame had quietly left the stage without my being able to say au revoir.

So I’ll say it now. It was a pleasure working with and for you, not a bit de trop, and always divine.

Lost & Found In Translation

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I was contacted to be featured in a Beauty/Health magazine called BODY in Taiwan. Here are the results…and the original pre-edited Q&A for those of us who only speak Chinese menu.

To enlarge pages above, just click on them.

BODY: Hello, could you please introduce yourself.

My name is Sharon Watts and I am an artist and writer living in Beacon, NY, a town on the Hudson River about an hour and a half north of NYC.

BODY: Describe yourself any optimistic DNA related?

I am artistic, therefore I have many moods! But mostly I try to live fully in each moment. That is the most fulfilling and spiritual thing I can do for myself, and as a ripple effect, for others. Luckily I see the glass as half-full most of the time.

BODY: Could you please share with us what kind of life you are into right now?

I think of myself as a healthy moderate (and a vegetarian) in many ways, especially about making a small carbon footprint on the planet. I am very opinionated about recycling, mindless consumerism and waste, and the need for gun control here in the US and women’s rights worldwide. But mostly I like to be quiet and enjoy what is in my own backyard, both literally and metaphorically. I have a bird bath and trees that attract a lot of birds and squirrels.

BODY: What does art act in your life?

I have always drawn. I don’t know what it is not to want to create something. I recognize as I get older that we can be creative in many diverse outlets. I also write, take photos, garden, and just “putter” and arrange my cherished objects, both in my home and also in my assemblage art which is very different from my fashion art. Art calms me and motivates me.

BODY: Are you fulfilling your childhood dream as a fashion illustrator?

I fulfilled that dream when I had my illustrations featured in the New York Times. That truly was a childhood dream. I also did art for a weekly column by the (then) fashion editor Carrie Donovan, for nearly a decade. And also ads for Macy’s and many other stores.

BODY: You use multi media for your illustration, but which media and method are you most stuck with?

I work traditionally–with paint and ink mostly. I need to feel them in a tactile way in order to be happy. This goes back to my childhood, when my mother gave me pencils and paper and taught me how to draw princesses.

BODY: What is your normal daily routine?

First–coffee! My cats demand attention and I wake up slowly. I read the news and check email, then depending on the day, I either work in my home studio (for commercial art) or in my garage-studio which I use for more personal assemblage art. I hop around–I may go do errands in town, then come back to work. And if the weather is nice, there is always yard work to do! I guess I have a loosely defined routine.

BODY: What makes you relax?

I like to explore the “back pockets” of anything: old dusty shops, city streets, country back roads,  my own archives of saved mementos: anything that might yield a treasure or surprise, or a new way of looking at something.

BODY: What’s your favorite thing to do?

Anything that has me totally immersed in the moment and fully present. But under that category I would have to say it could be anything from the obvious, doing personal artwork, to planning a getaway road trip to a new place.

BODY: What do you do at free time?

Whatever I feel like doing that day! Seriously, I honor my moods and do whatever I want. It might be organizing my art studio (which gets messy). Or it might be to curl up with a book and a cat on my lap.

BODY: What kind of style (clothing) makes you relax?

I wear Levis shrink-to-fit jeans almost every day, except in the summer I wear a lot of 1950s and 60s vintage cotton skirts.  My cashmere sweaters in the winter are old and have some moth holes and cat hair, but if I put on a little lipstick I am ready to head almost anywhere. I am old enough to value comfort and personal style over trends. I usually manage to look arty as well, so I can get away with a lot!

BODY: Any exercise habit? If so, what kind?

I do yoga, and sometimes dance and hop around as I play my old LP records, then practice some punches and front snap kicks (I used to train at karate and have a black belt). Usually by the end of the GoGos’ “We Got the Beat,” I AM beat!

BODY: Is there any place where makes you happy?

My backyard, my boyfriend’s beautiful renovated barn in Pennsylvania, an empty beach, a Paris cafe. Actually–the place I am striving to be most happy is in my own head. Then it doesn’t matter geographically where I am, right?