Chris Watson Living His Dream


Chris Watson

Professional artist Christopher Watson of Flint would never have imagined that he would be able to make a living by painting full-time. He says, “If you had asked me five years ago what I’d be doing, I’d have said, ‘I’ll be doing graphics.’” Yet, life has a funny way of arranging the impossible, as Watson acknowledges, saying, “It’s been a weird trajectory.”

Watson began drawing as a child after his uncle showed him a few techniques. He remembers his uncle coaching him on how to draw a man with an afro and afterward recreating the image countless times. “I’d keep drawing the afro dude,” he smiles. In time, Watson’s skills were noticed by his Kindergarten teacher at Jefferson Community School, who asked him to draw her picture. He obliged, and she paid him a dollar for his work. It was then that Watson realized he could be compensated for doing what he loved.

He would hone his talent over the years without taking an art class until the eighth grade. Giving him a ‘C’ in the class, the instructor told Watson that he’d never be an artist – a setback that confused the young man for the time, but didn’t squelch his desire to one day paint for a living. In the late 1980s, after graduating high school, he found himself working on the line for General Motors Truck and Bus, but one year on the line was enough to convince him that a life in the shop just wasn’t for him. As luck would have it, GM would provide Watson a way out, via layoffs. What was devastating to most others seemed like a blessing to him. He took an art class at Mott Community College, assembled a portfolio of his work, and began seeking a graphic design job in the early 1990s. After persistently contacting what was then Gannett Outdoor advertising, now known as CBS Outdoor, the company’s director started a separate division just to bring Watson on board. Watson became a billboard painter, granting him the exclusive right to say that he is the last person to paint a billboard in Flint. Before the advent of entirely computer-generated graphic arts, “Everything was hand painted,” Chris remembers.

After ten years creating outdoor graphics, Watson was able to successfully branch out into community art projects, something that he had long wanted to do. He defied the odds and the words of his pessimistic middle school teacher and became a community artist by trade. Look for some of Chris’ art projects in town, including a mural for the old Hamady Bros. building on N. Saginaw Street, a mural at S. Saginaw and Livingston Streets near Applegate Chevrolet, and a mural for Howard Estates, which was the result of collaboration with graffiti painter Charlie Boike and local artist Laverne Ross. In early 2013, collections of Watson’s paintings were on display at the Greater Flint Arts Council and the Flint Public Library.

Watson often mentors city youth when creating his city mural projects, allowing them the chance to assist with each project. From his quaint studio on Bradley Avenue, Watson shared his advice to all of the dreaming young artists in the world: “Keep practicing,” he says, “and never avert your eyes from the truth.” Chris remembers a saying from Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, who once said, “To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.” “That quote has always stuck with me, and I live my life with my eyes wide open, never averting them from the truth. As a young boy I watched my uncle draw, or observed the seemingly easy way my grandfather connected with everyone he met. The truth is I’ve always been an artist, it just took me a while to see that for myself.”

Throughout two decades of work in Flint, Watson remains an accomplished and recognized artist, and he remains humble. He is welcoming in his disposition, and quick to acknowledge the talent of other artists. He credits people with giving him inspiration, especially the people of Flint. “I remember the lights of a vibrant downtown, the smell of fresh donuts from Do Boy Donuts on Industrial Avenue and the sound of bells chiming in the distance as we anxiously awaited the arrival of the ice cream truck. This community still has so much life and so much life to give, and I’m proud to be a resident and small business owner. I have witnessed the fall of a vibrant city and am now in the midst of its rebirth.”


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