MC Alum Wyatt Waters’s Artwork Inspires Locals / Gracie Lee
Wyatt Waters is a name well-known among MC students, art fanatics, and residents of Clinton. The Mississippian and MC alumnus has made a career for himself painting landscapes, buildings, and sites around the world. His art has been featured in magazines like Art and Antiques and American Artist. MC students recognize his painting of “The Teacher” sculpture in Alumni Hall’s prayer garden. His art gallery at 307 Jefferson Street is home to some of his first paintings as a child and young adult. They include childhood drawings of a denim jacket, and his first apartment, which cost a mere $32.50 a month.
Waters was born in Brookhaven in 1955 and moved to Amory after his father gained a coaching position there. When he was two-and-half years old, the Waters family moved yet again, this time to Florence. “They gave us a house to live in. It was not a great house. There were holes in the floor,” Waters remembered. “She [my mother] patched the floor with orange juice cans when she dried her tears. But you could see the patches, so she had me help her spatter paint the floor to disguise the texture. I remember thinking, ‘This is good. This is fun.’”
After this first encounter with the joys of art, Waters began taking lessons from an elderly woman named Rose Taylor before elementary school. “Mrs. Rose would read stories and have me paint the stories. She taught me to read that way,” he said.
Waters’s passion for art blossomed even more when he enrolled in Mississippi College, but not before a serious wake up call. His academic advisor came to him one day and said, “You need to change your major.”
“He was right because I didn’t put the effort into it. It must have been a difficult thing for him to do. Scared me pretty bad,” Waters said. Despite this advice, he chose to keep studying art with renewed vigor and was especially intrigued by watercolor. He loved this medium so much that he took extra, non-required classes for it. This eventually forced Dr. Samuel Gore–Founding Father of MC’s Art program–to add more watercolor classes to the curriculum. “I took them without my prerequisites too. [Maybe] they looked the other way. I’ll never know,” Waters confessed.
Besides watercolor, he enrolled in a film class, became co-art editor of the Arrowhead, played music, and won creative writing awards. “I liked the arts. Particularly the creative part of it,” he said. He and his friends majoring in Music, English, and Religion would often meet to talk about the principles of arts together. “Because we were talking over big parts of art, we had to talk in general terms. It was like an aesthetics class.”
But it wasn’t until Gore offered Waters a work study that he had an opportunity to see real, classic artwork for the first time. “I helped him move a show to Washington, D.C. I was so in awe that I touched a Rembrandt. This guy came up and said, ‘Don’t do that.’” Waters did not heed this warning. “I went right to another room and touched a Van Gogh. They have alarms now and you can’t get away with that at all,” he reminisced.
Post-grad, Waters began writing his thesis on the physics of light and perception, a process he found much more difficult than painting. “I just didn’t want to write about art. I’ve always made art, but it had a drastic effect on my painting.” Even though his artwork was gaining popularity, he hadn’t sold a piece in six months. During this brief period, he worked for the art commission in Port Gibson to make ends meet.
He spent his free time during these six months painting on the street. One afternoon, a lady stopped in front of him and said, “Can you give me a show in two weeks? We’ve had an artist cancel.” In the space of a few minutes, Waters had his first exhibit space. “If I had given up, I wouldn’t have had a show. If I had [already] sold those paintings, I wouldn’t have had a show,” he realized.
In fact, many unfortunate events in Waters’ life have led to his success. One day, while working in his attic, he slipped and pierced his painting hand on a nail. After a three month stay at St. Dominic’s, he managed a full recovery, despite his doctor’s fears that he would have to amputate the hand. This hiatus from painting led to the publishing of his first book. “My roommate’s father was editor of Sunday paper. He always told me to put my paintings in a book. But I was always painting and that was a full-time job. Then, I couldn’t paint for a few months,” Waters said.
Quail Ridge Press published Another Coat of Paint: an Artist’s View of Jackson, Mississippi in 1995 with a foreword written by Mississippi author Willie Morris. In it, Morris states: “I envy the surname Waters for a watercolorist. I likewise envy the talent of the man who bears it.”
This was not his only literary achievement. “I like books because I’d already been doing theme shows. It’s like a portfolio,” Waters said. Waters and chef Robert St. John have since worked together on a five-part television series about Mississippi and Italian cuisine, called Palate to Palette. He and his wife, Kristi, are also traveling through the southeast and documenting their trip for a new book to be released in fall of 2022.
Waters’s painting brings him more benefits than just the joy of a completed piece of work. “I can’t remember everything, but I can remember my paintings. It’s too bad I didn’t paint the capital of Ohio in school,” he joked. “I do my best work on location. The phone is more immediate, but it takes away from the real experience. That’s what I like about painting. It puts you in front of life. It’s very important to see things as a human. There’s nothing between the world and my eyeballs.” The gallery helps him to sell to friends, families, and locals of Clinton. “It [the paintings] is like puppies. I like knowing where they go. This is all I ever wanted to do.”
His manager, Cristan Dulaney, began her job at the gallery as a part-time employee. “I’ve known him my whole life. I was hired on three days a week and now I’m the manager,” she laughed. Waters prefers to be outside working on location unless he is signing and selling his illustrated calendars. “People always ask, ‘Where is he?’ He’s out painting,” Dulaney said.
Waters was not clueless to people’s first opinions of his artistic career. “If you do it for a living, you’ll hate it,” critics told him. He even lost a high school girlfriend after her family discovered his dreams of becoming a “starving artist.” His advice to young artists is to do what they love, instead of worrying too much about finances. “At some point you’ve got to say, ‘No, this is what I need to do.’ I’ve heard the unforgivable sin is the thing you didn’t do but knew you should have. Because the Lord forgives, but we don’t forgive ourselves,” Waters said. “In your heart, you say, ‘This must be the right thing.’”
All of Waters’s work is available through the Wyatt Waters Art Gallery in Clinton.