As Frank Watters passed away in May 2020, he left behind him a legacy of Australian art history to University of Technology, Sydney. After closing the Watters Gallery (established with co-directors Geoffrey and later Alexandra Legge) in 2018, after 54 years, Watters had been working with the UTS Gallery to present The Watters Gift. The collection is complemented with a publication and series of sonic responses, titled Soundscapes, from UTS Ensemble in Residence, the Australian Piano Quartet — released on the university’s website.
Comprising of 67 works by 27 Australian artists, The Watters Gift includes artists such as Richard Larter, John Peart, Ruth Waller, Euan Macleod, Chris O’Doherty, Peter Godwin, Catherine Hearse, and Jumaadi — who were nurtured by Watters and the gallery. Euan Macleod shared with The Watters Gift curator, Tania Creighton, “you became part of a family where Frank was the patriarch and mentor you trusted with your future in the art world. All you were asked to do was do your work and leave the rest up to them.”
Today, the Sydney campus becomes a backdrop to the art, for students, lecturers and guests to enjoy (pending COVID restrictions). “When I see the many artworks across our campus, I am struck by how they foster a dynamic environment of thought and critique,” says UTS Vice-Chancellor and President Attila Brungs. “Every artwork tells a story that stimulates the creative and critical minds we foster.”
Accompanying the launch of The Watters Gift, UTS is presenting a free digital and print publication celebrating the largest single donation to the UTS Art Collection. Featuring the 67 artworks and a foreword by Sonia Legge, and a catalogue essay by curator Tania Creighton it offers a remembrance to the late art collector. “Frank was not driven by arcane encyclopaedic ambition or, like many collectors, the incentive of investment,” Creighton. “Art fed his soul, and he simply loved living amongst it.”
Capturing a pivotal moment in Australian art history, The Watters Gift brings together 50 years of experimentation which can inspire the next generation of artists — something UTS Curator Stella Rosa McDonald is needed in these times of uncertainty. Described as ‘loyal and ethical’, Watters’ dedication to his artist helped fostered careers, motivated by the art rather than profit.
“Frank Watters gave the artists he worked with a most important gift – time. Time to experiment, time to make mistakes, time to find the courage to protest and discover new modes of expression,” McDonald shares. “It reminds us that art – sometimes difficult and always humanising – is the deepest expression of our culture and is worth protecting.”