Esther Pearl Watson at Morena di Luna

Angels and aliens, saints and spaceships converge upon Morena di Luna this summer, blurring the distinction between divinity and conspiracy, imagination and belief. In a constellation of pencil-and-foil works on paper, the German-born, Texas-raised artist Esther Pearl Watson envisions celestial heralds and flying saucers hovering over fields and farmlands, each sheet inscribed with effusive, esoteric titles, such as Their fountain of energy is nuclear fusion and An abundance of oort clouds exist in the galaxy (all works cited, 2022). The naïve folk style of her paintings on board, paper, panel, and canvas recall devotional Mexican ex-votos in their depictions of children playing and picking flowers, oblivious to the scintillating spirits and UFOs overhead; as well as the obsessive spaceship paintings of Romanian “outsider” artist Ionel Talpazan. Watson’s otherworldly imagery is, however, most directly influenced by memories of her father, who has spent much of his life attempting to build and sell spacecraft to NASA.

À la Surrealist assemblage—Eileen Agar’s 1936 Angel of Anarchy comes to mind—Watson has also contrived “meteorites” of stone and earthenware accessorized with glitter, dirt, silver leaf, feathers, and sequins, housing them in the gallery’s built-in cabinets alongside found photographs of snowy scenes and landscapes doctored with miniature foil UFOs. Watson’s enigmatic upcycling is most accomplished in the titular installation, An Apparent Brightness, which combines nightclub disco balls and dumpster-scavenged mirrors into an ad-hoc pavilion bedizened with eccentric pink fabrics, furs, and piñatas. The work’s dedication to material radiance refers back to its title, an astronomical term for the luminosity of a star as seen from Earth.

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