By Thomas Sayers Ellis
Kurt-Dale Watson was born on October 31st 1985 in Montego Bay, Jamaica. He spent a portion of his youth in New York State before moving to Florida when he was twelve years old. In recent years he had devoted the majority of his energy to creating Art. These images develop from a series of hand drawn lines that are then processed and manipulated digitally. From the digital format they are then recreated in physical form. The parts are painted and embellished and then assembled into multilayered objects that can be further aesthetically altered. He met James Brandon Lewis and Thomas Sayers Ellis while he was sitting in the Black Crow Cafe (in St. Petersburg, Florida) making images. Kurt says, “I intend to continue to expand into different venues and progress as far as my aptitude and patience will allow.”
Can you describe the household and the home you grew up in? Was
there art of any sort or music? And when and where did you start
making the connections between what you saw––at home, school, in
the community, the church––to creative expression?
Hmm…I grew up in a kinda unconventional type situation. The
earliest years I can remember I was with my Grandmother in Jamaica
and a whole bunch of other relatives.. finding ways to entertain
yourself are part of that environment so I guess I had to be real
creative early. After that my brother and I moved to live with my
Mother in NY. I can’t think of specifics but there was definitely a lot
of both. Visually and musically I’ve always been hit from all angles
with really eclectic influences. Maybe that’s what is cool about the
digital age. There’s a way now to sift through all that and pick out the
gems, i guess.
Is a gem the same thing as an influence or rather yet do gems live or
die? I heard an interesting lecture recently about diamonds and
precious stones being calcified organs of the human body. I know
this may sound weird, especially in light of the practice of
mummification in Ancient Egypt but isn’t it amazing how language
aka slanted language aka slanguage aka slang creates a lineage of
meaning that is changing and not changing at the same time, the
coded changing same ol’ shit. What are your all-time favorite, let’s say
top 5, slang words?
You know, I like how words have an ability to express ideas and
emotion can change how they are interpreted. Language is so limited
and we can express so much more accurately what we feel through
art. Top 5? Maybe expressions like
I like the affirmation of understanding and action in short phrases or
Is there a word you hate or absolutely would not use or an object you
would never draw?
I try not to focus on anything too negative, unless I’m feeling some
intense emotion while creating. I tend to enjoy the process more
when I’m in a playful headspace.
Is it possible, for you, to make Race Work that is devoid of intense
emotion or is there something that goes into the craft that requires
restraint, a system of double code switching, signifying, or Kurt’s
own slickass signs and symbols?
I really try to avoid those things. Most of the aesthetic that I go for is
functional form. All the shapes have to connect at particular points to
properly create layers. I do like happy accidents though.
Now I’m curious about your creative process, the sum of it. Do you
have a favorite known shape––circle, square, rhombus? The
“particular points” in your work certainly give it one layer of its
strength. However, the first thing I noticed about your images is the
precise geometry of the portraiture, be it animal or human. An
organic technology seems to emerge. In this age of Skull Art, you
show us a different under-the-skin reflex and bone structure. What
do you see when you see people, do you count / capture the angles
that make up the composition of a face being / becoming art?
As a kid I would consistently get that one number code with the
corresponding behavior “Easily distracted,” so I kinda like to make
my process meditative and not start to fall into my natural tendency
to wander. If I focus on a single line and connect that with others, it’s
almost like the image builds itself, guided by how I’m feeling in the
moment. I really like a particular style of trapezoid that creates a solid
guide (in my mind) of how the other angles should be. For my stencil
process it’s more about how the light hits the subject matter.
Technology has no voice without the human factor. The crazy thing
about it is a pencil is technology, but it’s already very specific with a
specific function. Some people need to know what the thing is, what
it does, and how to use it. Others just need a box and a fantasy. A
computer is just a box with a bunch of tools. If you learn the
language, you can talk to the machine that makes the pencils.
Can you talk about the “box and the fantasy” paradigm as it pertains
to the artist’s role in luring the spectator in? Is it sinister,
manipulative, a caring connectedness or just straight up “Game?” I
mean is the concept of “talent” just another hustle with deep senses?
I wonder. How do you decide which fantasies to place in the box?
Damn I never really thought about it like that. I’m not the authority
on talent. I’m not sure if there is such a thing. I feel there is a bit of
manipulation in the mindset that promotes fear though. Culture is
really good at that. I try to ignore the little voices that constrict my
natural compulsion to create––anything that stems from that decision
is up to the audience’s interpretation. It is definitely a game and a
hustle but both those concepts have a negative connotation assigned
to them by the culture that defines them. By definition hustle is
positive. Culture is what tells you that a hustler is a villain. Imagine a
candy bar called “Hustler.” That doesn’t exist. If you want to
make people think something is bad you don’t put it near anything
positive from a marketing/manipulation standpoint. The only thing
that separates a hustler from a corporation are resources. The point is
to be able to do better. I don’t think there’s a limit to what can be
placed in the box. It’s really what comes out that has the impact. If
that output is intentionally harmful, that’s a problem.
I heard a story once about Picasso signing the drawings his children
made and giving them or selling them to the Art Dealers that he did
not like. Is this deception, hustling, tricksterism, genius or “I just
don’t give a fuck!
It’s a fun story.
I hope he put the money
in their college fund.
One of the first drawings I purchased of yours is a female nude with
an 8 Ball head looking into what is perhaps a mirror. Can you talk
about either the inspiration, vision or statement of that particular
Yeah man…this picture is from a while ago and the drawing is even
older. At the time when I drew it up I was obsessing over this new
pen I’d found. I was kind of on like My Third Bout of Experiences
With Women Who Struggle With Substance Abuse. It was quite
literally a drawing of how I felt about the way they felt about
themselves. I try not to be as literal or emotional these days. Glad
you’ve got it though!
I don’t think it’s possible to achieve the kind of anti artificial
figurative form (perfectly fluid and perfectly flawed with a touch of
the soft-surreal) in that drawing without an emotional connection or
as Derek Walcott once said to me, “All art is autobiographical” and
he may have been quoting van Gogh. What thing or confession is
also made about the self, about the Kurt, when you explore such
There’s probably that element of vulnerability. I think I like to
illustrate observation as an action. That’s the perpetual
reflection. I see you harming yourself, as I see myself harming
myself through you harming yourself, ha ha. Maybe it says
that it’s important to have these references to be aware of
how I’ve grown over time.
Let’s talk about logos. I’m fascinated by the amount of
language and information and creative association that can be
designed into a really good one. In Florida, the NASA logo is
everywhere but very few people actually possess the literacy
that it takes to decipher it. Since your work for Heroes Are
Gang Leaders has been, I would say, logo-oriented, what
makes a good one and can you give a few examples of three
I’m definitely with you on that. I learned somewhere that the best
logos are really simple and to the point. They should also look as
good in a single color as they do with multiple colors. Some of the
top ones, for me, are
Nike comes to mind as well.
So many logos in Florida have the sun in them. Your Heroes Are
Gang Leaders logo reminds me of a clock wrapped around a sundial.
Is it hard to portray “time” in a symbol without the aid of hands and
numbers? It looks like it could rotate in two directions were it not a
drawing. Is illusion necessary when creating multiple meanings?
You can do a lot of things with lines. When creating this image there
was an idea of movement that developed with the letters. I wanted to
frame them and emphasize that movement with the surrounding
lines. The line breaks create a sort of radiating effect that I like to
employ as often as possible.
Do you write poetry? I know you have a lyric sensibility and can rap.
Since HAGL is, partially, a poetry band, the line breaks and the
silences in the logo were not lost on me. I can even imagine where
the shadows and their wide silences would fall if the block lettering in
the logo were standing in a public space. The interruptions do not
stutter the flow. It makes me see rhythm, “a whole lot of rhythm
going ‘round,” all-the-time (in-time) internal rhyme not just end-of
the-poem-filthy-finger-snapping-rhyme. Your work fits HAGL
because you are a visual poet. Does this make sense and do you have
sketchbooks full of text and poems and raps that you have written.
So many books! I used to spend way too much time writing, free
styling, and recording. This image is one of my first successful
drawings using line work to create an object that appears 3D that was
made into a sticker. I like the open mouth––that expressed my
frustration at the time. The angle brings it forward and kinda
emphasizes that emotion as well. My favorites tend not to resonate as
much with the viewer haha…
Recently you’ve used materials such as plastic, wood and lights in
your work, giving the drawings a sculptural presence while also
retaining the line work you spoke of. It’s amazing that none of the
cultural integrity is lost in the transformation. It’s clearly, and
powerfully, the work of someone mining his own Newer Black
Aesthetic, the presentation of new Black likenesses a being born.
Have you ever thought to create your own Black Super Hero, or are
you more interested in emphasizing the folks-strengths in regular
I do have a particular draw to certain materials, primarily those that
are used to create signs and plaques. These elements are socially
normalized as materials used to commemorate achievement. Creating
characters is not something that I have a strong aptitude for. I like
the symbolic aspect of super heroes. The batman logo for one is
pretty iconic. I guess black superheroes don’t have that kind of iconic
symbolism yet. Black panther doesn’t really have one. Spawn did but
that movie happened too early and it had this dark/associated with
demon vibe going on. Maybe I’ll create my own imagined character
with a proper logo in the future.’
I see shields and the shapes of carved stones in your work and I do
wonder about “achievement,” about the redirection of it and the real
purpose of it, especially since so many of our collective realities are
informed by tools of deception. Honestly, art aside, what might a true
(anti-Power) log/object/relationship/cuisine/parking lot look like,
given the visual monopolies of DC, Marvel and corporate
advertising? Is visual departure possible. Shit, there’s always a cape
and there’s always a chest…always a battle, always a foe.
I agree. I like to think of these boundaries as great vessels for real
subtle defiance. For me it’s about asking questions. Is there such
thing as a visual monopoly? We choose not to compete because of
money. Money is art developed for mass control. Art is the power,
money is the manifestation and popularity makes it viable. A bottle of
Coke is consumable art.. They could change how it tastes and people
wouldn’t notice. Consumerism is art abuse, which begets an art
abusing culture of abusive people who love to abuse and be abused
and that’s where heroes come in to play. All we do to heroes in
America is kill them and then tell every generation about the “great
men” we murdered for using art for good.
Do you have any thoughts, then, on the designs and symbols and
visual attractiveness or spell casting of Money? Can you rank the
following items: penny, one dollar bill, five dollar bill, dime, nickel,
twenty dollar bill, quarter, one hundred dollar bill, according to
aesthetic appeal from one to eight, one being the highest? I’m also
curious what image(s) you would add or take away from the US
It’s strange. I don’t even look at the bills themselves anymore. There
is something a bit more attractive going on with the hundred though.
I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the smirk on Benjamin Franklin’s face,
but really there is a boldness to the look of it, more contrast with the
darker hair against the background and the image takes up more
space than on the other bills. I think money itself is more mystified
than spell binding. I think of it like a prom queen or something. Not
everyone had classes with her but they feel left out when she gets that
crown. There’s no magic in the girl, there’s no magic in the crown.
There’s just the ritual that leads you to believe she has more value
than others. Performance art.
1 One Hundred Dollar Bill
2 Five Dollar Bill
3 Twenty Dollar Bill
7 One Dollar Bill
If it were up to me currency would be generated and metabolized like
food or fuel. But really it should have different statements on it like
“Get money or starve!” or “Vanity’s reward.” or “Corruption
That’s certainly better than buying fruits and vegetables with a mini
Mona Lisa, Guernica or Starry Night, ha ha, but that would move art
one step closer to replacing reality, well, assuming reality is not
already art, already replaced, a terra formed art studio. I wonder if
people over 6o years of age would choose to live in a Manet or
Monet. Being a photographer, maybe I could live in a Gordon Parks
photograph (even though I think he was a spy) and sometimes innervisit
a Lamar Peterson painting rather than getting drunk and falling
the up the down staircase surrounded by wet mirrors, Being alive in a
Basquiat would just nuisance-annoy me. Complete this sentence:
Kurt-Dale Watson has moved into an original
transcendental void aided by technology.
Do you respect books, any, or have they become a religion you don’t
I like books. I don’t read much more than articles these days but I
used to love being exposed to Shakespeare and Poe as a Tween. I
definitely respect what the exposure to new information does to
spark interest, develop discernment skills, and overall education. I
just feel there is so much information and the necessity to access and
react is rather overwhelming. Nurturing seems to be a lost art and
that is the forum that education happens in its least hostile form.
These days everything is…to use one of your terms “weaponized.”
Have you considered protesting INFORMATION or have you
already begun, somehow, someway, in your art. Craft takes time and
by the time it has matured the INFORMATION Goliath has already
traumatized the field. Can we even imagine an INFORMATION
PROTEST without the aide of INFORMATION?
Ha ha. This is the age of Information. I think my “art” is a way to
delve inward more and think about what things/objects could be.
The intrusion of modern information is that it tells you how things
are. There is no emphasis on building. The now is the end and there
is no more. The present…note how many times you’ll see references
to that in modern media.. Think it was a José Cuervo ad I heard the
other day…the big tagline was “tomorrow is overrated.” You’ll see
and hear the motif over and over. That’s the kind of thing I really try
to protest. I like to ask myself questions like…why are people doing
that and why do I hear that repeated…in music and advertising.
What’s with the brainwash? I don’t have “information.” I have
reflection. It’s a response to the constant bombardment of stimuli.
So many artist are being misguided by invented info, so what’s the
biggest public “lie” you’ve encountered or thing that you thought was
true about the world and then discovered it wasn’t?
I used to believe in leadership. Now I think more along the lines of
receiving fragments of knowledge from the experiences of others to
Are you making a connection between misguided info and leadership
or are you replacing leadership with info, sort of pulling the skin off
of the former to reveal something of a Terminator. Is this what Art
does––blood as oil, DNA as date? Scary but check it: I’ve never seen
a scary or frightening image by you. Do you avoid horror?
I think with the information overload of current times horror is
constant. The opioid epidemic, persistent global violence, economic
collapse. Escapism is the call of the age. Beyond the fear of mortality
is acceptance. Acceptance is peaceful. I seek peace most often. I
think my images should sooth and comfort. That is the energy that
I put into them.
In this video clip, Kurt talks about the challenge of making five Stickers.