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Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 28.3 (2007) 84-93

Awakening to Freedom . . . Returning Home
Alex Watts


I was born to British parents in the United States, where I grew up until I was twelve. The last state we lived in was Arizona. The extraordinary beauty of this place was to have a profound effect on my soul and on my journey as an artist.

At about this age—twelve years old—I became keenly aware of a disharmony within my family. Home no longer felt safe, and I drew a sense of comfort, peace, and love by absorbing myself in Arizona's rich red rocks, vast skies, and endless desert. Soon circumstances forced us to move to the United Kingdom (UK), but before leaving, we decided to explore the state further. In one particularly poignant moment, I found myself standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, awestruck. Tears of wonder for this magnificent, boundless place fell, as the rich array of colors, smells, and textures pervaded my being. To be uprooted from such a place was a great loss. My aching for the desert never left me, and I determined to feel its peace and freedom again.

Over the next twenty years in the UK, the desert continued to speak to me. It ignited my love affair with ceramics. Playing in red earth again brought back the desert's inspiration. New revelations were born in my summertime travels in Europe, where I explored the world of fine art in the Continent's great museums. Although I was studying three-dimensional design at Brighton Polytechnic, I sensed that the skills I was learning in wood, metal, ceramics, and plastics needed something more than decorative aesthetics to move me from the realm of craftsmanship to the realm of art. At the Louvre, the majesty, inner beauty, and power of the Egyptian collection fascinated me; the Cycladic idols communicated their sense of mystery, their simplicity of form; and the beautiful purity in the elongation of the Etruscan bronzes moved me deeply. I wanted to evoke in my own art the energy I felt emanating from these ancient artifacts. [End Page 84]

These works were not designed to be pretty; they were created from and spoke directly to the soul. That many African artifacts were created for specific spiritual practices especially resonated with me, for the aesthetic was secondary to the works' innate energy and purpose. As they spoke to me, I felt my heart explode with the excitement of soul-deep truth and beauty.

At home, I began to create long, tall figures growing from the organic forms of desert rocks and pods. Elongating the limbs gave gesture and tension to key areas, and it made that connection between heaven and earth. The longer the figures stretched, the closer they came to heaven—and answers. I was not alone in drawing inspiration from primitive and ancient art. Among my heroes, Brancusi, Giacometti, and Modigliani had similar experiences and spent their lifetimes simplifying form to its vital essence. It was not until after my experience with ancient art that I first encountered Giacometti's work at the Pompidou. My legs froze, my jaw dropped, and tears rolled down my face. I felt I had come home—found a truth, made a connection. I knew I wanted to feel and make that connection when I made a piece, to stir something within myself and others.

Another discovery would play a major part in my growth as a young artist. At the university, Michael Tucker, a professor of poetics and philosophy, introduced me to a rich variety of spiritual practices, poetry, music, and visually healing arts; shamanism, Zen Buddhism, the work of Kierkegaard, Ekelöf, and Bergman, paintings by Frans Widerberg, and the haunting music of Jan Garbarek have ever since sustained me in my creative life. Working with this tutor on my thesis, "The Edge of Experience," I began to feel less alone and more validated as something inside resonated with what I saw as universal...


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