I first found Esther Pearl Watson's work on the back page of BUST magazine as I stood in Border's a few years ago. I was immediately hooked on her style. Her main character Tammy was so gnarly and just begging for love. It was the perfect combo. Esther's giant, often autobiographical, paintings sprinkled with childhood memories, glitter and flying saucers just sealed my love for her work. Esther recently took a minute to answer a q&a for the blog. To see more work by Esther be sure to check out Billy Shire Fine Arts. Thanks Esther!
Your paintings tell so many stories. Do you have a narrative in your mind as you paint?
Stories emerge in everything I do. Sometimes, I will have a story in mind, other times it just comes out in the work.
Would you say that you keep your work in a series, or do you bounce around and revisit narratives and story lines later on?
Most of the stories I tell are about not fitting in. I approach stories from many directions. Sometimes I have to tell a story in sequential order (like a book) but I won't work that way. In a gallery setting, the pacing of a story is different. It doesn't need to be told completely or in order.
Much of your work includes UFO's in some shape or form (including an installation of a large pink glittery ufo), these are an ode to your Father who was fascinated with building his own UFO's. What was it like growing up with a Father with such a colorful imagination?
I love my childhood story. Life is funny, difficult, sad, ridiculous...so many opposite things at once. My dad is a huge inspiration. I am not afraid to be different or pursue my interests.
Besides your family and childhood, what are some of your other inspirations that guide the narrations in your work?
I love the details of life. Small things you see that tell so much story.
I was first introduced to your work through Bust magazine, where every other month it's reader's get a view into your character's life, Tammy Pierce, life through your comic Unlovable (which is about to be released as a book!). Did you relate at all to Tammy when you were a teenager?
I do relate to Tammy even now. Of course. I'm more Tammy than the diary I found. There are a lot of things I did as a teenager that were very Tammy. Trying really hard to act like I knew what I was doing. Trying to impress people and years later realizing it didn't matter. Trying stupid things to cover up obvious flaws.
You discovered Tammy through a Diary you found in a bathroom at a gas station. Did you ever imagine you'd get so much material from such a find? Do you remember how you felt when you first read the diary?
I am very inspired by a few materials: books I found at the 99 cent store, thrift store paintings that were thrown out with the garbage, high school yearbooks, and diaries. When I first read Tammy's diary, I was amazed at how good it was. My diaries sucked. Each day, Tammy talked about friends so that you cheered for her or yelled at her for hanging out with certain people.
Has Tammy taken on a life of her own at this point, or do you still refer back to the diary now?
Tammy is her own character, very different from the real diary. I don't look at the diary [anymore]. I can put Tammy in a setting and watch her go. I can draw Tammy standing in a public bathroom and there will be awkward moments a-plenty.
What is your favorite story about Tammy?
The school dance when she pukes on a plant.
I love drawing her from a funny angle...like looking over her shoulder. Or crawling around
on the floor.
You and your husband Mark Todd have made many 'zines and you co-wrote a book together about them. What is it for you that make zines so amazing?
Zines are great because they are made by people who love what they are doing and saying. So much so, that they go through extra time and effort to make a small print run. Once you have someone's zine, it's hard to get another copy or issue. You have something very rare and special.
Among your zines and (now book) about Tammy Pierce you've also written a few other books that focus on issues teenagers wrestle with...what were you like as a teenager?
Mark and I use our childhood as inspiration and motivation for art making. I was an "old soul" teenager, made a lot of art, and found ways to stand out with my wacky thrift store clothes.
What is coming up for you this year?
Working on Unlovable Vol. 2 and have some exhibitions in Austin, Toronto and Rome.