Carolyn Watson-Dubisch: A Multi-dimensional Artist
Carolyn Watson-Dubisch is an American muralist, sculptor, mask-maker, children's book author and illustrator. She lives in Mazatlán, Mexico, and makes large (sometimes huge) papier-mache sculptures for shows and festivals. As a muralist, sculptor and mask-maker, she has painted murals and made and sold masks (including using online sales channels) for photoshoots, events, music videos, and theatre productions. She has also been an active participant in street painting events and shows. Over the last year she’s written and illustrated five children’s books. Her next one called “As the Sun Rises, Morning in Mazatlan” is due for release soon and will be published in both English and Spanish.
1. When did you decide and what prompted you to become an artist? Please give a brief account of your challenges and struggles in your journey as an artist. Any role models?
CWD: I decided to become an artist when I was 17 years old. I liked to draw and paint; it brought me peace during the difficult time that my mother was fighting terminal cancer, so I applied to The School of Visual Arts in New York city not far from my family’s home. I was given a scholarship and studied illustration and sculpture. I also met my husband Mike Dubisch there, who is an accomplished artist as well. After school we took any art-related job that would keep us alive. We taught art, my husband still does ,and I worked in museums, such as The Albany Institute of Art, and even the art supply store. We also drew art for magazines, comic books and when my first child was born I began creating children’s books. My first book, Andy and the Flying Toaster Tangerine, was released from Pentland Press in 2001. I also started selling art online which led to many different art jobs. I was a set designer and a prop maker at Looking Glass Theatre for a while in San Diego, California. Then in 2012, we moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where I began creating large sculptures for festivals and started getting involved in street painting and murals. I opened my mask-making store, Artisan Masks, because my daughter was going to college and we needed more money to support her at school. That has led to many, many opportunities. I’ve even made masks for television shows, like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and some movies as well. We, of course, had our struggles. Being an artist means that one month you’re doing very well and the next month you’re broke again.
We moved to Mazatlán in 2019 about six months before the pandemic, mostly because living in Mexico was much more affordable for us. I was immediately able to arrange places to show my art in galleries on a regular basis which was really incredible. Through one of the galleries I arranged to be part of Carnaval by making my millipede sculpture and I was recruited to paint a mural at a nearby secondary school. Mazatlán is a great place to be an artist.
I admire so many artists, where do I start? I love Iris Complet’s work , Brian Froud, and Canadian artist Eric Orchard always amazes me. To be perfectly honest, and I know this sounds biased, but my husband Mike Dubisch does brilliant work. As for the muralists I admire, Mexican artist Adry del Rocio is incredible.
2. What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this?
CWD: At the moment I am finishing a children’s book called “As the Sun Rises, Morning in Mazatlán”. I am also laying out and preparing the Spanish version of the book at the same time. In Spanish the book is called “Mientras Sale el Sol, Mañana en Mazatlán”. The story is of two siblings who wake up before sunrise to go with their father to the beach and go shell fishing. It shares the culture and environment of the beach in Mazatlán. We walk on the beach everyday here with my dog; it’s such a privilege to live in a beautiful place like this. One reason I wanted to create a book about Mazatlán though is to give back to this city that has welcomed my family from abroad. The city relies quite a bit on tourism and that has dropped off because of the pandemic. I want to help publicize what a safe and special place this city is.
As the Sun Rises - cover spread
As the Sun Rises - Page 3
As the Sun Rises - Pages 4 and 5
As the Sun Rises - Page 6
As the Sun Rises - Page 7
Recently, I made a giant, colourful millipede for Carnaval, the last event ever held in the city before the pandemic. I am also continuing to make masks through my online store. I recently made some robot masks for photographer Katie Munley, and she created these incredible images and designed costumes to match. I love to see how people take my work and make their own amazing result.
Robot Masks for Katie Munley
Bug eyed Robot Mask for Katie Munley
Bug-eyed Robot Mask for Katie Munley
Red-eyed Robot Mask for Katie Munley
Red-eyed Robot Mask for Katie Munley
Of course, when the city shut down last year, many of these things stopped happening. I had some mask orders but not everyone wanted an art mask for Zoom calls! I decided to focus on smaller art and write again.
Eye Ball Mask
Death of The Sea Worm, Mural, from drawing to completion
3. Contemporary art has become very diverse and multidisciplinary in the last few decades. Do you welcome this trend? Is this trend part of your art practice?
CWD: I do welcome this. I think it’s inspiring and has resulted in some really fascinating work. I found a documentary of Cai Guo-qiang’s Sky Ladder; the artist is from China and works with fireworks, fire and explosions. Working with such a different kind of medium is very impressive. It’s amazing what some artists have managed to do. Since I work as a painter/muralist, a sculptor, digitally as an illustrator and a writer, I think I fall under this category of multidisciplinary artists.
4. Does art have a social purpose or is it more about self-expression?
CWD: It depends on the art. Some art is all about a message like “Climate Clock” in New York city’s Union Square. I don’t think it really expresses anything but a social and political message and a sense of alarm,and I think it’s a stretch to even say it’s an art piece. Art can be exclusively a self-expression as well, such as Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, but I think most art has a little bit of both, a social message as also a self-expression. My children’s book, for example, expresses the beauty of this Mexican beach city but also shows the interaction of the local culture juxtaposed with the wealthy tourists who are passing through. Of course not everything needs a message, but it can add to your art if it does. Some art is just expressing emotion, and of course not all art is beautiful, and that can work well for many artists.
5. Where do you create your art (workplace / studio)? What is your process?
CWD: I create my masks at the table in the main part of my house. If I’m working on a large papier-mache sculpture, I will bring it to my outdoor balcony/patio area and work there. Papier-mache is a slow process that takes from several days to several weeks. Drying time is long in between stages, so having a fan to place the masks under is essential.
Mask-making on the table in the main part of the house
Masks on the table
Painting a blue dragon on the back patio
Working on a blue dragon on the back patio
Working on a millipede on the patio
Creating my art for books is different. It’s much smaller and a lot cleaner so I work wherever I am. I have a sketchbook that I’m filling up with drawings of my children’s comic book series “The Dragon in The Closet”. I actually have drawn in that book while waiting in doctor’s offices, waiting in line, anywhere. If I’millustrating a book like “As the Sun Rises, Morning in Mazatlan” I do this at home. I do a detailed drawing of the image, scan it and then colour the illustration on my iPad Pro in Procreate. As for mural art I do this on site, where I’m needed to paint. The last onsite mural I created was in Confetti Park in the centre of the city, in chalk, for the Coloured Earth Festival.
Carolyn with the half-done mural Monday
6. To what extent will the world of art change in the post-Covid period – both in terms of what is created as also the business of art?
CWD: I honestly think the world will return to what it was earlier, now that vaccines are starting to be distributed. Sadly, the world has lost millions of souls to this nightmare, and I’m sure many, many artists have had to turn to doing other things that is not art to survive. However, people are ready to go out to galleries and attend festivals, and see performances. It may be awhile before we get to what it was like 2019 again, but I believe it will happen.
As for what artists will want to create, I think it will be full of light and colour. Bringing joy back into the world will be a goal of all artists.
7. Tell us about any other interest you may have besides your art practice. Does it get reflected
in your art?
CWD: Outside of art, my interests are reading and writing, studying Spanish and travelling. I like to read science fiction, fantasy, YA books and memoirs, and all of these things are reflected in the kind of art and writing that I do. My recent book Fireflies features fairies, and my comic series The Dragon in the Closet is full of monsters and magic. Since I’m working on the soon-to-be published children’s book to be published in English and Spanish, I’m working with a translator (Jorge A Castilla from Mexico city). I have to lean on my Spanish skills for many things related to the book, like promotions. As for travel, I’ve produced art at two international art residencies. I travelled with my family to Tetouan, Morocco, in 2017 to create a sculptural installation with Green Olive Arts, and in 2018 we travelled to Kilkenny, Ireland, and stayed at Shankill Castle where we did onsite drawing and I created a sculpted children’s book. I hope to see more of the world through my art once COVID-19 releases its grip.
(All images are courtesy of the artist, Carolyn Watson-Dubisch.)
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