Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Writer Wednesday - Alison Watt

Alison Watt grew up in Victoria and nows live on Protection Island, Nanaimo, BC, where she and her husband have raised two children. She holds a BSc in Biology and an MFA in Creative Writing, and is represented by the Red Art Gallery in Victoria, BC. She says, "I am a painter who writes; I am a writer who paints. I am never sure exactly which comes first. Writing has been a way to express more accurately what I am drawn to express in the non-verbal language of painting. Both are equally important to me." I hope you enjoy the interview, and if you're a visual artist who would like to be interviewed yourself, please contact me!
Alison Watt artist writer

Who are you? I live on a small island (Protection Island) near Nanaimo, Vancouver Island. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia but my first degree was biology; my work is shaped by my ardour for the natural world. I am a writer who paints; I am a painter who writes.


Where can you be found online? Do you have a blog or other online receptacle for your work? I kept an illustrated travel blog a few years ago when my husband and I were sailing in the Pacific. That year my art practice, adapted to the gypsy sailing life, simplified to watercolours and a sketchbook. My writing became the infinite space, within the nutshell of the sailboat, I could retreat to. I worked on a novel and I wrote for my travel blog. I loved writing the personal essay, something I had never done much of before, due to the lack of publishing venues (unless you are David Sedaris).

I continue to keep a blog on my professional website. It is mostly about drawing, painting and teaching at home and in France. I have been teaching plein air in southwest France for the last few summers and have fallen deeply for its food, landscape and sensibilities.
French Doorway

Why do you write? I wrote my first book, The Last Island, because I wanted to tell the story of a formative “moment” in my life, a remarkable person (the young Quebecois woman I worked with on the seabird island, who later fell and died there) and the lyrical natural history of seabirds. My next book, a collection of poetry, Circadia simply emerged on its own volition, as poetry does. At that point I was in my 40’s; life seemed to be in fast forward, kids growing, parents dying; poetry was a way I netted life, examined it, and pinned it down. I was meeting at the time with an incredible group of older women writers in my city; they were nurturing mentors and ruthless editors.

But mostly, I write because creative work pushes itself to the surface and the artist has no choice but to release it.

Who inspires you? Different writers have inspired me at different times of my life. When I was studying biology, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was my bible, scribbled with my earnest marginalia. Sylvia Plath continues to be a poetic touchstone for me. The Canadian poet Don McKay’s homespun sophistication, the loving clarity of his gaze when focused on the natural world, inspires. My favourite novel is Laurence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet.

If you could have an all-expenses paid trip anywhere in the world, where would you go? As a young woman I was all about adventure; the places where I worked and travelled were the stuff of wild dreams: the Amazon, the Galapagos, the remote reaches of the British Columbia coast. Now my desire is to explore time, culture and art. I would love to stay in a city like Venice or Paris for months. True luxury would not be travel but pause, to step away from all of the deadlines and self-imposed striving and simply "be." But I suspect, like many artists, I might find it impossible to leave my work behind.


What is your favorite place on earth? My favourite place on earth is near where I live. Mitlenatch Island is a seabird colony, a park where I once spent a whole summer, working as a solitary naturalist. Now I spend one week every summer there with one of my oldest, dearest friends, as a volunteer warden. It is a tiny, wind swept, sun bleached hub of concentrated life (birds, whales, seals, otters) at the centre of the Salish Sea.

Mitlenatch Island
Mitlenatch Island

Anything else you'd like us to know? I know artist/writers whose work is very integrated. My own writing and painting often feel like they occupy different wings of my mind. I suspect though that they connect in a subconscious way: for instance, a friend pointed out to me that I began painting abstract after I began writing poetry. I am fascinated by how different genres feed each other in the work of other creative artists.

1 comment:

  1. So pleased to see my friend Alison getting more widely known. She's such an inspiration!