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Two Yukon artists bring bodies off the wall in new show at YAAW

New show by Donald Watt and Makisha Page opened on Aug. 6
Torso by Donald Watt. Cast from body of a breast cancer survivor. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

A sculptor and a body tattooist joined forces and passions in a new exhibition opening Aug. 6.

Donald Watt’s and Makisha Page’s exhibit, “A Body of Work”, opens at the Yukon Artist at Work gallery and will run all month.

Watt says the 13 torsos coming off the gallery walls are “personal stories of friends and fellow artists worn like t-shirts for the world to see.”

The project has been underway for at least 10 years, when Watt first began casting bodies of his artist friends. His intent was to sculpt people’s character and craft into each piece during the different stages of the sculpting process.

Donald Watt explains his technique of pressing clay to form feathers at Yukon Artists at Work Gallery. His show, Body of Work, with Makisha Page continues through August. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

Watt is a university-trained sculptor who came to the Yukon in 1983 and soon found himself at the heart of set design and snow carving in the territory. Snow carving took him around the globe with a world-class team.

Page came into the project midway. Page, a painter, watercolourist and tattoo artist from Quebec and currently living in Whitehorse was intrigued by the project, and offered to join Watt in creating more forms. She brought her own style onto, and into, the body shapes.

Body by Makisha Page (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

After learning the basic techniques, she started casting her own people. She also introduced tattoo inks into the process which provide a deep luster and translucency to the torsos than other paints that are sometimes used to colour clay.

It is not a simple process. The human models wear cotton t-shirts and stay very still. Watt, and later Page, used plaster casting materials and laid gauze squares in the plaster, then on the t-shirt to make the shape, and let them dry slightly. The process takes roughly an hour.

Body by Donald Watt. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

The t-shirts were cut down the back and removed, carefully handled and left to dry. Then, these molds were used to cast the clay. The plaster molds were supported with styrofoam peanuts as the clay was deliberately pressed into the form. Different techniques were used on different pieces. Clay shells on one, brick shapes for another, striated bands for another.

“Each piece captured a moment in time when I knew the person and knew what they were producing with their artwork,” Watt said.

Now, some are doing different things, but their essence shows through.

Watt was attentive to the seams and wrinkles that showed through from the clothing underneath. One breast is marked with the spot of where breast cancer had been, another is braced, another seems to work with leather.

Pages’ experience and talent as a body tattooist show through with the intricate designs and detail. Her pieces are smoother, without the exposed nuance of the underlay that Watt sought.

Subtitled “the t-shirt collection”, the bodies come literally off the walls in the YAAW gallery in Whitehorse. As Watt says: “Every body has a story.”

Contact Lawrie Crawford at