Jamaican born, Basil Watson was commissioned by the City of Atlanta to create a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. to be placed on MLK Boulevard in downtown Atlanta near Mercedes Stadium. Watson was chosen over 80 other applicants who vied for this honor.
The 22-foot-tall sculpture has been realized after much thought and rumination.
The artist has created monumental public works for Jamaica, capturing the island’s icons. This includes accomplished Jamaican athletes, like Olympic champions Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. He has also portrayed cultural icons like The Hon. Louise Bennett, as well as Jamaica’s National Heroes.
Watson graduated from School of Art at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts back in 1980 and has been working as a sculptor since. Being the son of master painter, late Barrington Watson, he said the work of his father definitely had an influence on him.
“I started by both looking at photos and listening to a collection of his speeches,” Watson said. “Slowly my concept evolved to the theme of ‘the redemptive power of love.’ Eventually the dove appeared, coming from King’s hand, symbolic of both the man and his core message.”
Creating the sculpture involved many fascinating steps, Watson said.
“I incorporated technology by digitally scanning the 1/2 life-size model and then having it digitally enlarged in styrofoam to the twice life-size,12ft, scale minus approximately 1/2 inch, leaving me space to add a layer of clay to achieve the details,” he said.
After the clay model is completed it then goes through the last wax casting process.
“I am responsible right through to the unveiling as I designed the pedestal, arrange its construction and supervise the casting and installation onto the pedestal,” Watson said.
The statue is now being cast now at Inferno Foundry in Union City.
The pandemic has not been an impediment to Watson’s work, he said.
“My world is my studio, and my studio is my world,” Watson said. “I work from observation, and I am constantly drawing with my eyes as everything points to my work. And then my studio is where I am in total focus, at peace, and find refuge and freedom at the same time.”
His gifts come naturally. His father Barrington Watson, a professor at Spellman College, was a renowned painter who created a portrait of Martin Luther King for Spellman in 1969. Watson’s brother Raymond Watson is also a sculptor and his sister Janis Watson is a painter. They both live in Jamaica.
The artistic genes are being passed along. Watson’s son Kai is a “third generation painter” who also lives in Lawrenceville when he is not in Jamaica.
“Sculpture/Art can have a very powerful social agenda,” Watson said. “Others from past eras have used this power, for good and for bad. We can now use this power for good, and not be afraid to use this power to promote our agenda of togetherness.
You can enjoy Basil Watson’s art at www.basilsculpture.com.