Jason Watson says being gay as a teenager can make for an uneasy life.
“It’s like adolescence on steroids,” he said. “Teenagers are in this process of becoming something else. The change can be fraught with all kinds of insecurities, but can also be ecstatic and enlightening.”
Watson, the Wesley Mancini Artist-in-Residence at the McColl Center for Visual Arts, is doing an outreach project titled “Coloring Outside the Lines.” He will work with members of Time Out Youth to create portraits that capture the identities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning members.
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“As gay teenagers come into their sexuality, they have to represent that and how the world sees them becomes very important,” Watson said. “They need validation and a certain kind of testing of the world. ”
Time Out Youth is a center that provides support, advocacy and resources for LGBTQ young people.
“Most portraits are used to memorialize someone in a point in their life, usually at their height,” he said. “Rather than trying to capture them stuck in one moment, I’d like to get to the fluidity of what they are trying to become. I want to capture the individual.”
Watson, who was a faculty mentor for LGBTQ youth at Appalachian State University, said being out as a gay person is different than it was when he was a teenager in the early ’90s.
“There have been such radical changes in the past 20 years in what it means to be a gay person and what it’s like to grow up as a gay person,” he said.
“When I was young, we felt the need to stake our claim as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. That was our identity. Today, many are choosing to identify as queer because they don’t like the labels of being heterosexual, homosexual, or gay or lesbian. They find it restricting, which I find it fascinating.”
Watson, who just started his 11-month residency at McColl, said he hopes the project, once completed, will be taken on by other artists in Charlotte. He would like to see members of the LGBTQ community of every age be captured in a portrait.
“This needs to move beyond me as visual artist,” he said. “There’s only so much one person can give to this really rich, interesting challenge. I’d like to see other artists that are interested in idea of portraiture and working with the LBGTQ community to come forward to add to the project. The idea of fluid sexuality, of coming out and change is a part of every gay person’s life. You will be dealing with identity issues no matter how old you are.”
The project has not started yet.
Watson has met with Time Out Youth twice, but hasn’t selected sitters for the portraits. He said although he has an idea of what he’d like the overall project to look like, he is open to others’ ideas and opinions.
“Ultimately, this will be a collaboration work between the students and myself,” he said. “Portraiture is an engaging studio practice that requires two people, which I really enjoy.”
The pieces will feature not only the work of Watson, but also the work of the students. They will spend time drawing and writing in notebooks, and those images will be transferred onto the portrait.
The project is being partially funded by the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay fund, which still needs to raise $2,600 to complete the project. Watson said that so far, the fundraising has been done by word of mouth.
He said he will also discuss it at the McColl Center’s Studio Party 13 Magical Mystery Tour, an art sale with each artist’s studio representing a different Beatles song. The event will be at 7 p.m. April 13 at the McColl Center, 721 N. Tryon St.