Artist Wyatt Waters always wanted to accomplish the project that eventually became his new book, The Watercolor Road. “I did an Italian cookbook with chef Robert St. John and spent over a year in Italy altogether,” he says. “That’s all fine and good, but what I always envisioned to do was a book on the Southeast.” Upon returning from Europe, he knew it was the right time to paint and write about his native soil. “When you live somewhere, you think you know it. Then you go away, and you get enough perspective to realize you don’t really know it entirely because you’ve been in it for too long.”
After two and a half years of traveling in a camper across the Deep South, he’s done it spectacularly. “My wife and I started in February of 2020. We would do two weeks on, then take some time off, then five weeks on… we would sometimes do smaller road trips three weeks at a time. We were living in a sixteen-foot camper. Sometimes it was really hot, because it’s the South.” From the mountains of North Carolina to Florida’s Keys and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Waters captures every Southern scene imaginable in his colorful 160-page anthology, which is much more than a regional picture book. His written vignettes – “musings,” as he calls them – add a personal and thought-provoking element to his latest work, shining a light into an artist’s mind and, sometimes, even life itself. “Painting and writing are both ways for me to explore something,” he says. “I don’t really see what I’ve done until I’m done with it… they’re two different ends of the same stick.”
Waters prefers to paint en plein air. “We call it working from life,” he says. “I work on location. It’s a kind of journalistic painting, almost documentary-style. I don’t use photographs, and I’ve lost a lot of jobs that way, but it’s what I know I do best.” He and his wife typically work in tandem to find locations that arrest the eye. “It’s a little bit of her getting us there, and it’s a little bit of me getting lost along the way.” He often endures uncomfortable conditions, from sauna-like heat to showers, sleet, and snow.
There are also moments when nature becomes more dangerous than uncomfortable. “One time, I had my foot as close as possible to the water’s edge. All of a sudden, very close by, a huge alligator starts beating something against the base of a cypress tree,” he says. “It could have taken me out.” And, of course, he encounters human curiosity – passersby want to know more about the man with the paintbrush on the side of the road. Sometimes, they’re suspicious. Most of the time, they’re friendly. “Legally, you can paint anything, as a first amendment right, but it helps to have a little bit of people skills,” he says. “I try to make people comfortable. It’s my chance to be an art representative.”
Throughout The Watercolor Road, Waters represents both art and the South, lending a new perspective to the region in a way only a true artist can. As he says in the book, “We are all looking for something to find.” For the Southerner, The Watercolor Road lends something to be found in the familiar.
The Watercolor Road can be pre-ordered on wyattwaters.com. The Wyatt Waters Gallery is located at 307 Jefferson Street in Clinton.