Car accident leads to art career

Artist Connie Watts refuses to allow brain injuries to slow her down.

Connie Watts' exhibit Reconciling Self will be on display at the Nanaimo Art Gallery's Vancouver Island University location until September.

Connie Watts' exhibit Reconciling Self will be on display at the Nanaimo Art Gallery's Vancouver Island University location until September.

The year was 1991 and Connie Watts was working hard to establish herself as an interior designer when a horrific car accident on Vancouver Island changed everything.

“[It] stripped me of my ability to see visually,” Watts told the News Bulletin. “I was an interior designer and I lost everything.”

The accident left Watts with multiple skull fractures and caused her to lose about an inch in height.

“I had no historical memory. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t see things in my head like I used to,” Watts said. “I designed a 10,000 square-foot space and I could see the whole thing in my head, but I couldn’t do any of that anymore.”

After spending time on herself, Watts decided to attend the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver in 1994, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Intermedia. It was during her time at Emily Carr that she began to develop a love for creating art.

“Being at Emily Carr you’re surrounded by all these artists … it gave me a venue for building my visual senses back again,” Watts said. “Art was my way back again.”

Since graduation Watts has gone to become a highly respected artist, who has carved her way into art galleries all over North America.

“It was a fight to get my brain back,” Watts said. “When I went into fine art it was a determination to have my mind working the way I wanted it to. I knew I was missing something.”

On Friday (June 13), Watts’ latest exhibit, Reconciling Self, will be on display at the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Vancouver Island University location. The exhibit features six of Watts’s newest paintings as well as variety of sculptures and other mixed-media artwork.

“It’s multidimensional. It’s layered. It’s got more information,” Watts explained about her work. “You first look at it and you see something and then you continue looking at it and you get engulfed in it. It would be like taking a hike through our West Coast. You’re always seeing more and more and more.”

Watts, who is of Nuu-Chah-Nulth, Kwakwaka’wakw, and Gitxsan ancestry, wants people to walk away from the exhibit feeling connected.

“I am from the northwest coast; I wanted them to feel that connection. I say that loosely because our belief

system is that we are all one. We are all universal. That is essence what I hope my work captures,” Watts said. “I am hoping that the viewers are beyond that and can actually feel what the work is saying … I am trying to open myself so people can see this belief that we may look like individuals but we are actually all interconnected and not only interconnected with each other but with everything that surrounds us.”

Watts’ first artistic adventures began when she started creating sculptures of all different sizes.

“When I started making things I also had no rules. I didn’t know I couldn’t do something because I had no process to tell me that I couldn’t,” Watts said.

Watts’s first ever privately commissioned piece was her sculpture of a large thunderbird known as Hetux, which is on display at Vancouver International Airport. The University of Manitoba graduate is currently working on a new sculpture, which will be installed at Port Alberni later this month.

“I’ve got a big sculpture going in for a commemorative project for those that survived and went through the residential schools,” Watts said.

In addition to her artistic work, Watts still continues to work as an interior designer. She was also the project manager for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games venues’ aboriginal art program and has served as a member of the B.C. Arts Council.

Although Watts refused to allow a serious car accident to slow her life down, she has yet to fully recover from her injuries and currently struggles with the concept of time.

“It’s always been my hope that I could have my brain back,” she said. “You know how they say that you’re brain doesn’t heal? Well, I don’t know what happened to mine because I am able to access a lot of things, but time is the one thing that hasn’t come back.”

Reconciling Self runs at the campus art gallery from June 13 until Sept. 6. For more information on the NAG exhibit, please visit and for more information about Connie Watts, please visit