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Art by notorious double murderer Scott Watson to be exhibited at Christchurch gallery

Anna Leask,
Publish Date
Thu, 16 May 2024, 10:05am

Art by notorious double murderer Scott Watson to be exhibited at Christchurch gallery

Anna Leask,
Publish Date
Thu, 16 May 2024, 10:05am

Prison art created by notorious double murderer Scott Watson will be exhibited at a Christchurch gallery this month - around the same time as he appears before the Parole Board for his next bid for freedom.  

Watson was jailed for life with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years for the 1998 murders of Olivia Hope, 17, and Ben Smart, 21.  

The friends disappeared after boarding a stranger’s yacht early on January 1, 1998, after marking the new year with friends at Furneaux Lodge, a century-old, boat access-only resort in Endeavour Inlet. Their bodies have never been found. 

Scott Watson before he was charged with the murder of Ben and Olivia.Scott Watson before he was charged with the murder of Ben and Olivia. 

He has always denied killing, or even ever meeting, Hope and Smart after New Year’s celebrations in a Marlborough Sounds holiday hideaway. 

He has repeatedly been denied parole since he became eligible and continues to fight to clear his name. 

His next appearance before the board is scheduled for the end of this month. 

While in prison, Watson has taken up painting and carving to occupy his time. 

On May 24 an exhibition will open at the Rei Gallery in Lyttleon featuring work Watson has completed. 

The exhibition titled “in the public eye” will run until June 20 and has been organised by the Whakaraupō Carving Centre Trust. 

The Herald has reached out to the trust for comment. 

One woman has voiced her objection to the exhibition on the trust’s Facebook page, where the exhibition has been advertised. 

“I want to see our local artists and carvers,” she said. 

“Will you invite Ben and Olivia’s family and friends to hui first? 

“He should rehab in private not given opportunities Ben and Olivia will never have. 

“Where is the sense in this ... Watson did time because he did the crime. Just because he did the time ... doesn’t mean he gets to grossly use Ben and Olivia’s murder to profit. 

“Please have a heart for the murdered Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, their family and friends and the kids and the mokopuna they never got to have.” 

The exhibition will open on May 24. Photo  / Rei GalleryThe exhibition will open on May 24. Photo / Rei Gallery 

Whakaraupō Carving Centre trustee Tahu Stirling acknowledged there may be some who don’t agree with the exhibition given Watson’s offending. 

“We’re aware of the case, and acknowledge all those who’ve been affected by it. And the community is quite challenged by it, I guess,” he told the Dominion Post. 

“But for us, we want to promote art in itself, and it can be exploratory, and challenging, and that’s what art is all about in our society - to make us think about where we stand, and viewpoints, which can be opposing to what’s out there.” 

The Herald has reached out to the trust, exhibition organiser and the Rei Gallery for comment. 

On the gallery website an explanation of the exhibition states: 

“‘in the public eye’,by Scott Watson, is an exhibition showcasing some of Scott’s whakairo and rauangi (carving/visual art) practices which he has produced over a 26-year period of incarceration. 

“Curated by WCCT, ‘In the public eye’ will provide a visual narrative of Scott’s creative journey.” 

The exhibition site explains that over the last 10 years the trust has supported both Māori and non-Māori prisoners with their release from prison, and with their reintegration back into their communities. 

“This is done by providing a Māori kura kaupapa whose primary aims are uplifting tikanga, kawa, and Mātauranga. This is achieved by supporting the tino rangatiratanga and mana motuhake of individual creative practices, skill sets and aspirations. 

“As part of the WCCT kaupapa, a community collective has emerged, Te Whare o Rei (Rei Gallery). This is a space for creatives to undertake Toi Hua, a kaupapa Māori Toi Principle which focuses on the exhibition of creative mahi to a wider group or community.” 

The Herald on Sunday revealed Watson’s artistic side in 2008, saying he was using his work to make a political statement protesting his innocence. 

One work contains the statement “Rob Pope murders me”, apparently suggesting the man who led the investigation got it wrong. 

Another of Watson’s paintings contains the phrase “A Commissioner’s Chickens”. 

Ben Smart and Olivia Hope.Ben Smart and Olivia Hope. 

At the time, his father Chris Watson said his son’s works should not necessarily be interpreted literally. 

“If he paints one with a boat, then of course that means people think he’s thinking about dropping people in the water. He knows that,” he said. 

At the time, Chris and his wife Beverley were purchasing art supplies for Watson which they sent to his prison in Christchurch. 

Chris said his son sent his work home to be given to friends and family. 

Art experts compared Watson’s art to work by Picasso and Colin McCahon, though not always favourably. 

Art dealer John Gow, director of John Leech Gallery, said Watson had painted some interesting pieces but “none would be hanging on my wall”. 

Watson had obviously read some quality art history books in prison, said Gow, and had recreated works reminiscent of Picasso’s imagery. 

Some of the “nicer” paintings were styled on the Russian Constructivist movement, said Gow. 

Scott Watson in High Court Christchurch in 2015. Photo / Pool Scott Watson in High Court Christchurch in 2015. Photo / Pool 

Poorer pieces could be compared to McCahon. 

”Well, it’s only like McCahon in that there are words over paint. It’s a political statement in the medium of paint. But it’s bad art.” 

Jon Bywater, head of the Elam School of Fine Art at Auckland University, said Watson’s work was “at a beginner level”. 

“Frankly, in themselves, the paintings are pretty uninteresting,” he said in 2008. 

”The ones that stand out are the ones mentioning Rob Pope and Commissioner’s Chickens. 

”Watson hints at a secret truth, ‘something that I know and you don’t’, because it’s cryptic.” 

Anna Leask is a Christchurch-based reporter who covers national crime and justice. She joined the Herald in 2008 and has worked as a journalist for 18 years. She writes, hosts and produces the award-winning podcast A Moment In Crime, released monthly on nzherald.co.nz 

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