In his works, American artist Ouattara Watts summons imaginary worlds and mystical visions, from ancestral to contemporary, to observe the metaphysical relationship between creatures. Vibrant colors, mysterious figures, and allusions to spiritual rites in the form of equations and cryptic symbols are apparent, and the interrelationship of these elements creates a dimension unique to Watts.

His source material is colorful and varied, from traditional fabrics and paint to cut-out photographs and digital prints. The added layers forge a sense of his multicultural identity and reflect upon an increasingly multicultural society. Regardless of the origin of these elements, the discernable spiritual power of his works conveys another world that is both instantaneous and timeless.

“Ouattara Watts intercedes at the cross-roads of civilisations to reconcile worlds. His work bridges geographies and forms of longstanding aesthetic heritage, constructing intricate dialogues between cultural and iconographic systems. Watts’ visual languages are heart-stoppingly beautiful and expansive, while retaining always a layered complexity of references, signs and correspondences. It is almost half a century since he arrived in Paris from Abidjan in 1977 to study painting at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, before moving to New York just over a decade later and making it his home.

Installation view, exhibition “Ouattara Watts in Paris”, Almine Rech Gallery, Paris, 2023

His first museum show in the United States was at Berkeley Art Museum in 1994, curated by Lawrence R. Rinder who then selected his work for the Whitney Biennial (2002). In the same year, Okwui Enwezor showed three large paintings in Documenta XI (2002), having also included his work in the landmark survey ‘The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994’ (2001–2002).

Since that time, Watts has continued to build a remarkable oeuvre, composing and manipulating richly textured and coloured painted surfaces with virtuosity at an often-monumental scale, as well as working more intimately on paper with watercolour and gouache, and integrating found objects and elements of collage.

Seen from within European and North American art history, Watts’ work speaks among other things to abstract expressionism (Rothko, Pollock) and neo-expressionist figuration. Yet it completely exceeds such categories, and rather draws these points of reference into vast, polyphonic aesthetic architectures.” – Kathryn Weir 

Born in the Ivory Coast in 1957, Watts lives and works in New York. He was persuaded to move to the city in the late ’80s by Jean-Michel Basquiat, after meeting the artist at an opening in Paris. Lifelong friends, a thematic similarity is evident in their art, both of which highlight African culture, philosophy, and spirituality.

Current Exhibition

“Ouattara Watts in Paris” // Almine Rech Gallery, Paris // //

Gallery representation

Almine Rech Gallery – Paris, London, Brussels, Shanghai // // Karma Gallery – New York, Los Angeles // //