Preparations for Ross Watson’s upcoming Mardi Gras exhibition, Classic De Novo, are underway.

But if you’re interested in purchasing any of the works on show, you’d better get in quick as
they are showing at Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival before they arrive in Sydney.

We’re over the moon, because half the show has already sold out. If you’d told me that six months ago, given the current financial climate, I wouldn’t have believed it, said Watson, whose vivid, dreamlike portraits of beautiful men have garnered him a loyal following.

The works that make up Classic De Novo (loosely translated, classics beginning again) deal with the contrasts and similarities between the old and new. Bare-chested men stand in the foreground, clutching the accoutrements of 21st century life -” mobile phones, skateboards and the like. Behind them, old masterpieces by the likes of Caravaggio and van Ruisdael loom large.

I feel like I’m treading on sacred ground when dealing with artists like Caravaggio, and I think any artist is entering dangerous territory if they’re not respectful of the originals, Watson explained.

I always keep the original reference as close as I can. In the last decade or so, appropriation in the art world has become common.

I want people to think about the way things have changed, and the way some things haven’t. I want the paintings to provoke those kinds of questions.

Among the models featured in the exhibition is ex-Collingwood footballer Paul Licuria. Along with fellow Magpie Brodie Holland, Licuria has become a regular fixture in Watson’s works. The artist said the hetero sportsmen were surprisingly eager to pose.

Paul and I got on very well, and that was the starting point for us. They’re typical of so many straight males today, where [sexuality] is not an issue. It’s so refreshing.

As well as beefy footy player types, Watson works with a wide variety of models -” from the angelic, chiselled looks of Melbourne actor Jamieson Caldwell to the wiry, playful energy of Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears. He admits he doesn’t have a particular type when it comes to choosing his subjects.

I’ve always been physically attracted to a lot of different-looking guys, the whole gamut of body types. The most important thing for me in choosing a model is there has to be a comfortable rapport there. A couple of times I’ve dealt with models who have a bit of attitude, and that’s instantly a turn-off.

info: Classic De Novo shows at The Depot Gallery, Waterloo, 24 February – 7 March. Details: www.rosswatson.com

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