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Kannapolis artist finds his muse

Eric Wattinne will be set up at the April 26 Kaleidoscope Cultural Arts Festival from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. in downtown KannapolisEric Wattinne

By Michael Knox mknox@independenttribune.com

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. —Attend a live music venue in the area, and you just might spot an artist in the crowd, busily painting away as he’s inspired by the music.

In fact, it’s hard to miss Eric Wattinne. The Kannapolis artist can be seen wearing a suit and tie — with sandals and a captain’s sailor hat.

“I like comfortable, and I like to be very flamboyant,” Wattinne said. “I love to have people walk in, look over the crowd and stop when they see me. And it’s not just because I’m working on my painting, it’s because they’re like, ‘Who’s that guy with the yellow dress corduroys with gigantic boots on? And is he wearing a shirt? No. That’s a vest. He’s wearing a vest and no shirt and he’s got a captain’s hat on.’”

Wattinne strives to be flamboyant.

“I like to be a walking advertisement for the psychological community, the people that like to explore their consciousness,” he said. “Exploring consciousness obviously leads to your outer appearance changing. So, you’re exploring your inner self, and it’s going to change [how] you want yourself to look.”

That exploration of consciousness is something Wattinne dives into every time he paints at a music event. He attends concerts and festivals as a guest, performing a “live painting” session in which he creates art while musicians play.

One piece that shows how Wattinne’s art style works is his painting “Cosmic Rave.”

“I wanted it be the image of an astronaut who has his face mask break in space and he’s having a death trip,” Wattinne said.

After developing the initial idea for the painting, he was able to work with a band to help the concept flourish.

“Right when I started it I was talking to my friend’s band, The Wormholes, and they wanted me to give them an idea of what I was painting so that they could kind of play along with it and give me inspiration while they played,” he said. “And they already do cosmic sort of sounds.”

Wattinne not only paints to the sounds of live music, but he has also lent his artistic talents to bands, providing their album artwork. He’s worked with Andrew Stamper, as well as the Asian Teacher Factory and The Collectives.

The piece he recently did for Andrew Stamper is a burst of purple and yellow, with strange faces erupting from the explosion of color.

“Some people have been saying it looks like the Big Bang to them,” he said. “You’ve got some sort of demigod deities, looking on to the Big Bang.”

His work often has strange faces in the background, which are also influenced by Wattinne’s emotions.

“When I draw faces, you see inside the work — extreme happiness, extreme interest, this person is very astonished, aghast. And the expressions show what I feel sometimes,” he said. “If I’m working on a piece and something confuses me, the next face I draw might look confused.”

With music, Wattinne has also been influenced by the work of Ralph Steadman, cartoons, the band the Gorillaz as well as images he’s pulled from his dreams.

The different media have influenced a style that he’s spent years developing, dating back to when he was a student at Winecoff Elementary School.

“I was always doodling,” he said with a laugh. “I’d get in trouble in class because I’d draw instead of listening. I would no pay attention to my work. Eventually, I was like, ‘You know what? I’m getting into trouble for it, but later on this is going to be what I do for a living.’”

Wattinne studied art at UNC Charlotte, and he now works at Dragonfly Studios, where he does carpentry work and fabrication designs.

It was at UNC Charlotte, though, that Wattinne first started painting to music. At first he’d just listen to CDs, but by December 2011 he was invited to “perform” with the band The Mantras at the Visulite Theatre in Charlotte. “The energy and the go-for-broke kind of act that they do and just the amount of love they emanate made me just love painting to them,” he said.

Now, Wattinne paints to live music on a regular basis.

“If there’s no music playing, I actually find it hard to work,” he said. “I like to dance while painting, too. Sometimes it’s just as enjoyable for me to be up on stage dancing out and just grooving as it is to paint.”

Contact Michael Knox at 704-789-9133.