Meet

Christina Watka

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I moved around a lot when I was growing up, so the “where are you from?” question is always tricky for me to answer. I was born in California, but I have lived in North Carolina (twice), Missouri (twice), CA (twice), Utah, and Massachusetts. I currently live in Tarrytown, New York and my studio is in Dobbs Ferry, New York.
Describe a typical day in the studio for you.
It’s all about repetition. I usually head into the studio for a few hours a day when I can get them. I also work as a creative coordinator for a florist, designing flowers and large-scale floral installations. Typically, I fill my mornings with flowers and head to my studio to finish the day. I find that this schedule actually works well for me–I am able to pack those studio hours with work and keep myself focused. I had a baby earlier in the summer, so we will see how I am able to finagle all of my daily tasks with him in the picture. So far, he can hang out in the studio with me while I work. I think he senses that it is a great space to look and think.
Why did you choose to work with site-specific installation?
Site-specific projects are the most exciting to me because they deal with space. I am interested in the way that people interact with art, and installation allows me to play with that. I like to see the spaces I am going to work in before I get there, whether through video, photos, or a site visit. I pay attention to the way the light moves in the space throughout the day. I like to see how people flow through the space so that the work can agree with that flow. These things are all special to site-specific work, and special to me.

A recent installation at Johnson & Johnson.

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It’s all about repetition. — Christina Watka
Where do you feel you create your strongest work?
Location plays a crucial role to the success of the work. I have turned down projects if I didn’t feel drawn to the space. I want my work to live in spaces where it can breathe and swell the way it needs to. At this point, I can also recognize if a space is going to offer me things I may not expect–those are exciting. My strongest work lives in simple, open, naturally-lit spaces with plenty of white.
Since so much of your practice is site specific, do you mainly use studio time for planning or preparation?
Yes, both. During my 5+ years doing window displays for retail spaces, I perfected the craft of material estimation. I estimate quantities in my studio or at home, and prep all of the work in my studio. I would say that I bring extra home from 99% of my projects. I can only think of one installation where I used every last piece, and that was at Felicity House here in NYC. My studio is also the place where I can try new ideas and see how they feel in my space.

In the stairwell at Felicity House.

With so much planning, how do you incorporate chance in your creative process?
I always leave a little up to chance in my work. I like to prepare as much as I can so that I arrive on site with an abundance of materials to create the work, but I find that if I over-plan, it distracts me from taking advantage of some wonderful surprise that may await me!
What features are your favorites to work with in a site-specific installation?
Light is by far the best unexpected characteristic in a work. The Murmuration jobs at Altamer in Anguilla and a private residence in Chatham, NJ come to mind. I knew there would be abundant light in these spaces, but in each space, the light came from all directions and moved around so much more dramatically throughout the day. The installation process usually takes a half of a day at least, so I see the light moving over the work as I install it. It’s exciting–all of these shadows crossing on the wall, creating an entirely new drawing that I did not plan. Now I know to look for the light in the spaces I will encounter, and I try to choose rooms and walls based on what I think will happen. Still, there are some surprises!
What themes or motifs are you consistently drawn to?
Some themes I explore include: naturally-dynamic patterns found in swarms, flocks, cells, constellations, and topographical maps. I am drawn to using materials from the earth and multiplying them in a way that makes them matter more as a whole. Individual shapes come from the body or the earth. I have been working on my Murmuration series for over five years now–the shapes I make in that series are all made from my fingers. In my most recent work, “Dichotomous Air”, I use naturally-occurring mica sheets that are carved out of the earth in the same shape in which they grow. I also love to focus on details: a fingerprint seen through glaze, a soft shadow cast on a wall during a certain time of day, or a tiny copper thread knotting two pieces of material together.
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In my most recent work, "Dichotomous Air", I use naturally-occurring mica sheets that are carved out of the earth in the same shape in which they grow. — Christina Watka
Do you ever reference specific imagery of these naturally-dynamic patterns?
I don’t really use specific images for the patterns. I like to reference many things–the Planet Earth series is especially mind-blowing to me. I watch the videos over and over. A few things come to mind: bacteria, fields of wildflowers, sheepdogs herding sheep, swells of fish, algae growing in a pond, birds flying, topography, constellations, bats mass-exiting a cave, moss on a rock wall, etc. I spend a lot of time outside looking around.
How does your choice of material inform the final piece?
I am focusing on natural, earthy materials. In my mind, the materials help the viewer approach the work gently, with familiar kindness and openness. There is a certain calmness that comes with existing in nature, and I hope to bring that into my work through the use of natural materials.
What’s next for you?
Since becoming pregnant, I have noticed a giant shift in my brain. I have so many new ideas and so many things I want to pursue. This year, I am working on casting some of my sculptures in bronze. I’m also playing with smaller wall compositions with clay, the idea of chimes, a new direction to take the mica, and some possible paintings involving the body.

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