Ross Watson's Two Surfers

Ross Watson’s Two Surfers

BRITISH celebrity Stephen Fry says Ross Watson’s works get sexier and sexier and make him “lost in admiration”. Meanwhile, Australian former High Court judge and gay icon Michael Kirby admires him for being meticulous, efficient and energetic. But who is Ross Watson and why do these accomplished men gush?

The Star Observer spoke to the man himself as he opened his 010:COAST exhibition in Melbourne recently.

In a career that spans 30 years, Watson’s exhibition is now a must-see at Midsumma, Melbourne’s most-loved LGBTI cultural festival.

In keeping with the festival’s name, Watson depicted the Australian male at the beach: the fabled bronzed Aussie, with some homoerotic while others suggesting identical twins heading for the waves.

The men that frequented Noosa Beach in Queensland, a place Watson has visited yearly since he was a child, seemed to be quite the inspiration for the Melbourne-based artist.

During a visit last year, it dawned upon him that this holiday destination was something more.

“I decided I could turn this fantastic material and concepts into a series of work,” he said.

Ross Watson's Lifeguard Showering

Ross Watson’s Lifeguard Showering

Giving a sense of his meticulous nature, he explained what he used to make his award-winning artworks resonate.

“I bring together a lot of different photographs and sketches and notes and a bit like cooking, I am trying to bring the best ingredients together and not overdo one,” he said.

“Hopefully I end up with a really successful composition. Just as everyone who is passionate about cooking hopes to end up with an absolutely delicious meal.”

Michael Kirby, who along with Stephen Fry and more recently Tina Arena have been immortalised by Watson, spoke about his experience visiting him in Melbourne for an art piece.

“He is meticulous in his work. Highly professional. Very well organised. Efficient and energetic,” he said.

“I turned up at his studio in Melbourne. There were many sketches. Lots of photographs. Endless conversation. And then it was over.”

Kirby added with a degree of humility that his image in the final work was nothing more than a “cameo”, instead giving credit to the handsome man with whom he shared the portrait.

“The sitting was all the more enjoyable because the star of the portrait was there as well and, like Ross Watson, I have always had an eye for a good looker,” he said cheekily.

“I think my partner of 45 years, Johan, was and is good-looking. But that does not stop my eye roving from time to time.”

This cheekiness extended to being an art critic as well, with Kirby lamenting that his skincare regime was perhaps missed by Watson.

“I thought that Ross Watson could have made me a bit more handsome by banishing a few more wrinkles,” he joked.

“I am after all in the 20th year of my Pond’s 10-day beauty plan.

Unfortunately, Ross’s sharp eyes caught all of my blemishes and they are recorded in the portrait for the future.

“In future I will only perform joint portraits with people as old as Methuselah.”

Watson has also donated some of the proceeds from past exhibits to human rights group Kaleidoscope, which recently launched in Australia and earned praise from Kirby – who is the group’s Australian patron.

“Kaleidoscope is an important new charitable venture which is trying to help LGBT people overseas who suffer oppression because of their sexuality,” Kirby said.

“Australians need to be more concerned about the injustices suffered by LGBT brothers and sisters overseas, including in the Asia/Pacific region.

“In today’s world we are all connected and we need to help each other to achieve justice and equality for everyone, whatever their gender, ethnicity or sexuality.”

Ross Watson is in the Midsumma Festival Guide here

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