Date: February 27, 2023 | Story: Stephanie Maxwell Newton | Photography: Courtesy of Wyatt Waters |
Outside is where you’ll usually find watercolor artist Wyatt Waters. The Mississippi native has been painting en plein air since the beginning of his career; in fact, it was a chance meeting on the streets of Jackson that led to his first real show, which in turn allowed him to focus full time on his art. His work depicts scenes both everyday and extraordinary, close to home and abroad: A man walks his dog in Tuscany. Two tomatoes form a simple still life on a windowsill. A sunset in the Florida Keys casts a hazy, beautiful glow over the palm trees. Each scene rendered by Wyatt’s careful hand captures a distinct sense of place in a style all his own.
In 2020, Wyatt and his wife, Kristi, undertook a multiyear project exploring the Southeast to produce his ninth book, The Watercolor Road: Painting and Writing Through America’s South. “You know when you go off somewhere and you come back home, things look different? And they feel different? I wanted to do something that gave me some discovery about home,” Wyatt says. The couple packed a 16-foot Casita travel trailer and, starting from their home base in Clinton, Mississippi (where they operate Wyatt Waters Gallery), zigzagged across Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, the Carolinas, and Arkansas, stopping along the way for Wyatt to paint. He describes the endeavor as “a little Jack Kerouac meets Southern culture.”
Kristi developed an itinerary with The Natural State as their primary destination. “There were a lot of beautiful sights in Arkansas that are so un-Mississippi. I mean, we don’t have mountains here. We don’t have that kind of landscape,” Wyatt says, noting that while his wife’s role was to keep them organized, his was to veer off path every once in a while. “She makes sure we don’t get lost, and I make sure to get us lost.” One such wandering path led to McClard’s Bar-B-Q, well known to both locals and frequent visitors of Hot Springs. “Barbecue’s not uniquely Southern, but it’s pretty Southern,” Wyatt says. “I tell people, there are as many ways to be Southern as there are different kinds of barbecue. Everyone has a little bit of a different flavor, but also a sameness.”
Wyatt’s painting of the iconic Arkansas institution captures its vibrancy—even while closed at the start of the pandemic—as well as his mastery of his favorite medium. “Watercolor challenges you because it doesn’t do what you want it to do,” he says, comparing working with the water-based paints to riding a horse. “It’s a collaboration, a kind of dance. It runs and drips and blobs and falls apart, and sometimes contributes better than my brush to the painting. It’s engaging, and that’s what I love about it.” A selection of Wyatt’s paintings and books, including The Watercolor Road, are available at wyattwaters.com.
Painting featured above: “Where There’s Smoke” by Wyatt Waters. 15” x 11” watercolor on rough paper
Images courtesy of Wyatt Waters