Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas

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Waterworks: Kansas
  • Mel Watkin
    born 1954
    born: Washington, DC, United States ; active: United States
  • Waterworks: Kansas, 2005
  • Where object was made: United States
  • pen acrylic, road map
  • Image Dimensions Height/Width: 48.9 x 91.2 cm
    Image Dimensions Height/Width: 19 1/4 x 35 7/8 in
    Sheet/Paper Dimensions: 48.9 x 91.2 cm
    Sheet/Paper Dimensions: 19 1/4 x 35 7/8 in
    Frame Dimensions: 23 1/4 x 39 3/4 x 1 1/4 in
    Weight: 7 lbs
  • Museum purchase: Lucy Shaw Schultz Fund
  • Not on display
  • 2007.0111
Label Text

Exhibition Label:
“Conversation II: Place-Kansas,” Apr-2008, Emily Stamey
“In the Waterworks series of pieces all of the roads, highways and dirt tracks on a roadmap are flooded with water and the lakes, rivers, streams and creeks overflow their banks. Water replaces humanity as the determining force on the land. In many cases these changes could represent the past as well as the future. I try to make the drawings beautiful, but also aim to give them a menacing quality because, as we know, despite nature’s beauty, it can easily reassert its claim on our lives.

“Waterworks: Kansas is one of my most detailed works. It is drawn on a map of Kansas that I picked up at a Welcome Center on U.S. Interstate 70. That map hung on my studio wall for over a year. Its color scheme was stronger than most state maps and I could not figure out how to work with the strong oblong shapes that fanned out from its center. I started by deciding that the oblong shapes looked like a flower. And, illogically, I could make a flower shape by densely “weaving” water routes together. I fell in love with the process of weaving the drawing; the magic of it kept me busy for about six weeks.”
Mel Watkin

“This road map covered in tangled waterways first suggests for me the idea of a flood. Unlike the floodplains from 1951 and 1993, though, the dense concentrations assembled here do not rigidly conform to the state’s actual topography. The blue central mass makes me think of the aquifers below us, but they lie farther to the west. Watkin’s water-map defies such specific references as the artist layers blue paths over highways and county lines, converging these routes in a choked knot that seems more frightening than familiar.“
Kate Meyer, Spencer Museum Curatorial Assistant