Interview with Local Artist Paul Jon Watson
The downside of living in a rural area is that access to museums, art galleries, and theater performances are quite limited. The rural area I live in is nestled in the mountains of Northern California, and is mainly a ranching community. Logging was big, but has been on the decline now for years. There are however, hidden away down rivers, up gulches, and creeks, many very talented artists. Many of these artists showcase their works at the Marble Rim Gallery in Fort Jones. The Marble Rim is funded in part by the Siskiyou Arts Council. There are many more artists who do not showcase their work, but seem to have their own “art gallery” right at home. One such artist I found near Kidder Creek is Paul Jon Watson.
About 10 years ago, when I was working as the Etna Librarian, a lavender Volkswagen bus pulled up front, and out came a man who had a long gray ponytail, and looked to be a few years older than me. His purpose for coming to the library was to seek information on anyone in town who could build him a website. I referred him to 3 people that I knew could do the job. One of them was my own son, who Paul eventually picked. I had no clue what the site was about until my son said that I must see this artwork this guy was producing. Being busy, I only took a quick glance at the pictures on the site. To me they looked like photos, not art in my opinion, so I gave them little thought until now. I wanted to interview a professional artist, so I went back to the site and looked at the paintings again. I knew this was the man I would interview. I called Paul, and he graciously invited me over for an afternoon.
Upon arriving at Paul’s quaint cottage in the woods, I could hear the sound of the creek nearby. The setting was beautiful. I noticed several wooden structures around the property. Some were finished; some were in the process of being built. There were two arbors, one for grapes, and another for wisteria. There was a green temple like structure that I thought of as a gazebo; the other was a white temple like structure with a domed roof, and many columns. I would later see this structure in many of his paintings. It became apparent Paul was talented in more areas than just painting. Paul welcomed me in his modest home and had a cup of tea already prepared. We sat by the fire, and he began to share with me about his life and his philosophy.
Paul was born in Iowa in 1939 and lived there until the age of 17 when he left home after an argument with his family over the fact that he had decided to become a vegetarian. Paul left all the paintings behind that he had done as a teen and headed to San Francisco. Shortly after he did a stint in the Army, and attended some college. His interest in college was in the area of Science. Soon he married and had children. Between his time working repairing auto diagnostic equipment, and family responsibilities, he was left with only one hour a day to paint. The progress was slow, and he longed for a life that gave him more time to paint. He knew in his heart that he needed to escape the city, and find a more rural setting. He and his wife parted ways soon after. Weary of working for” slave wages” Paul began his own diagnostic business and found he had even less time for what his heart was calling him to do, painting. Years passed, and he eventually met and married a woman who also wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Paul traveled the western half of the United States in search of the perfect spot where he could allow his creative spirit to flourish. Unable to find the place that tugged at his heart, he returned home to search the newspaper ads. An ad caught his eye for a place in Scott Valley, California. After traveling to the property near Kidder Creek, Paul knew he had found “paradise.” After the move, both found jobs and enjoyed the slow pace of Valley life. Paul was able to focus on what he felt he was called to do, that is to paint.
Paul was inspired by the life and art of Russian painter Nicholas Roerich. He was mentored by artist Ralph Harris Houston, who advised Paul to concentrate on the beauty of art, and avoid political statements and ego expression. Paul considers himself a seeker of truth, and his seeking will never end. His spirituality is based on Agni Yoga as taught by Nicholas Roerich and his wife. Agni Yoga is also called the Teaching of Light. The principals of this belief are that the creativity will help to bring in a new era that is both scientific and spiritual. Paul believes his painting is to positively affect the soul of the viewer. He paints what he believes the viewer needs to feel, to be inspired, to find direction, or to uplift the spirit. We were losing light so it was now time to view some paintings.
Paul’s studio is a building on his property that used to house a helicopter. Upon entering the studio, one feels as though they have entered and art gallery rather than a studio. Every available space is covered with art. There is so much to take in, it is almost overwhelming. It was evident that there were 3 works in progress in his work area. One was completed already. This new series appears to be of planets and otherworldly events. Paul explained many of his paintings were painted in groups, or series. Others are totally stand alone paintings. The series paintings are called, The High Abode Series, the Mount Shasta Series, the Egyptian Series, and The Devachan Series. The Devachan Series is where the white temple-like structure can be seen resembling the one in Paul’s yard. Also in these paintings is what Paul calls “elementals” or nature spirits. They are often hidden in various paintings so the viewer must look closely to find all the hidden objects. They were delightful to see up close. The Egyptian Series was in such contrast to the elementals, one could almost believe they were painted by a totally different artist. The Mount Shasta Series takes the viewer to different sides of the mountain, with many different skyscapes. At times, the sky overwhelms the mountain, and makes it look insignificant. The first painting I saw of The High Abode Series took my breath away. It is titled The Lion of the Desert, and is oil on canvas with a size of 48 inches by 72 inches. As I stood staring, Paul came up behind me and asked me what I saw. I could only shake my head in amazement. Tears were coming to my eyes; I was so moved and could not understand why. Paul said, “This is you, you are seeing yourself.” Wiping away the tears, I looked more closely as saw the tiny detail of the painting. Paul explained that the ripples in the sand of the desert were not done with brush strokes, but applied with a tiny brush as dots. Gazing around this gallery, I spotted portraits done of Jackie Onassis, and Mozart. This man it seems could paint anything. Paul then sat me in a chair and began to pull paintings from slots that were not hung on the walls, as there was no more room. There were many landscapes, lots of trees, and many other paintings from his various series. Paul has sold a few paintings, but explained that his does not paint for money, but for his own pleasure and the pleasure of viewers like me. While painting he believes that the viewer is looking over his shoulder and the painting evolves into what the viewer needs at that particular time. Paul paints mainly with oils, as he believes they are more forgiving, and he can mix the colors to get the exact hue that is needed. Paul believes he creates a scene that does not exist anywhere but in the heart or the core of the viewer. Core, as explained by Paul is from the Latin meaning heart, or soul. Paul is truly an artist of the heart. He explained how he needs to step aside as he paints, and step out of ego.
In all of my life, I have never met such a person without ego. Paul is defiantly a master at his work, and yet I was humbled by his egoless personality. We began to lose light, and had not gotten through a quarter of the hundreds of paintings. I would have to come back another time. I looked at my watch and realized that 5 hours had passed in a flash. I hugged this kind gentleman, and promised to return to look at the rest of his collection. Paul said he was honored to have a new friend. Again, I felt humbled in his presence, as it should be me honoring him for his wonderful works of art. I thanked him for allowing me to view such beauty, sharing his story, and the giving of his time. I had brought my camera with me that day, but left it in the house when we went to the studio. I was so caught up in viewing that I never realized it until we were back in the yard. I did get a picture of Paul sitting on his patio. I do hope to visit Paul again, and look forward to seeing the progress of those 3 paintings he was just beginning.
Used by permission of the artist and retrieved from, http://users.sisqtel.net/pjwatson/
This is the painting that moved the author of this paper to tears. To see it in person is to appreciate it in all its glory.
Watson, Paul Jon. Personal Interview. 15 May, 2011.
Watson, Paul Jon. (2001). Website. Retrieved from, http://users.sisqtel.net/pjwatson/index.html
Website designed in 2000–2001 by Jon Marshall at TheComputerField.com
Written by Pamela Davidson