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Enjoying Awkward Moments With Esther Pearl Watson

by Anne Bothwell 26 May 2015 8:00 AM
esther cows

“Pasture Cows…” by Esther Pearl Watson, hangs in the atrium at Amon Carter Museum.

There’s a new mural hanging in the Amon Carter Museum. It’s 13 feet by 10 feet, painted in a folk-art style and depicts a rural scene in Comanche Texas. Cows cross a creek bed shaded by big oak trees.  A man mends a barbed wire fence, and two girls hold hands in a field. And up in the sky is a big pink glittery flying saucer. I asked the artist, Esther Pearl Watson, to explain.

Why the flying saucers?

EWIt comes from my dad, who built flying saucers when I was growing up in the Dallas Fort Worth area. He didn’t believe in aliens or anything like that. He was building the future of transportation. Like a hovercraft vehicle. That’s what I understood.
Esther Pearl Watson

Esther Pearl Watson

It was a hobby right?

EWHe worked at Texas Instruments for a while, or Xerox. And sometimes he would quit those jobs and get a delivery job like at a pizza place, and deliver pizzas, because it would give him more time to work. I think he saw himself as an amateur engineer, designing the future.

How did you see that as a kid?

EWAs a kid, it was really confusing. It seemed like he had this genius idea. Even my mom, was like, oh if he just got the right funding, this could be something really big. But then the kids at school would be like “Are you going to Mars, or something? Why do you have a flying saucer in your yard?” And it was so embarrassing.
EWAnd I used to keep diaries since I was 13. I tried to sound so normal in the diaries. I wouldn’t mention the flying saucers he was building because I tried to sound like our family was just normal like everybody else.

Did your dad see your work? How’d he react to it? 

EWYeah, I gave him one of the paintings I did of him building a spaceship in the garage. And the garage door is partially closed, but you can see the spaceship underneath. He looked at it for a long time. And then he turned around and hung it on the wall next to a Donald Duck poster. And I thought that was appropriate.
esther unlovelunchroom-thumb-300x299-32863

Page from “Unlovable”, courtesy Fantagraphics Books.

You are also known for your work creating and illustrating comics. Unlovable  is a series of collections based on an old diary you found in a gas station diary. The writer, Tammy Pierce, is painfully hilarious.

EWShe was a high school girl, she was 15. The diary was old, it took place in the ’80s and I found it in the mid ’90s. It read so much better than my diaries. She would describe friends. You could follow the friends and you knew sometimes these people were using her. And we would yell out loud to the diary, like, don’t go with him just because he rubs your back. That doesn’t mean anything. Not anything good!
EWShe pays friends to hang out with her. They always go to get chili cheese fries. It read sooo good. So she was my muse for many, many years.
esther blood-lady-commandos-sing-a-ling-body-image-1431629286

Blood Lady Commandos from

Your new comic, for Vice Media, is “Blood Lady Commandos.” Two grandmas, Gail and Phylis, have been sent off to win the drug war.

EWBasically I wanted to retell the story of Rambo, but using a protagonist that you wouldn’t think of in that position, which would be an older lady and her friend. They are battling against a drug lord named Tiny Miracle.

Tammy Pierce from Unlovable, is definitely an awkward girl. Even Gayle and Phyllis have an element of awkwardness. What is it about the awkward that compels you?

EWI really love awkward moments. I feel like my entire life is filled with them. Even growing up with the dad who built the saucers in the small town and everybody notices. I feel like I just always find myself in these awkward moments. And all you can do is just laugh about  it. I just love that duality of oh this this is uncomfortable but I’m laughing. Should I be laughing? I don’t know if I should be laughing right now, but it feels kind of good.

More on Esther Pearl Watson:

    • The mural, Pasture Cows Crossing Indian Creek, Comanche, Texas, Looking for the old Civilian Fort of 1851, North of Gustine and a mile west of Baggett Creek Church, was commissioned by Amon Carter Museum of American Art and will hang in the atrium until June 2016.
    • Esther Pearl Watson’s work will be also be featured at Webb Gallery June 7-Aug. 2. The show, Mother Popcorn, also features Martha Rich, Julie Murphy and Nancy Mladenoff. Opening reception June 7, 5-8 p.m.
    • Peter Simek’s essay from D Magazine.