By 2013, three years into Instagram’s existence, “posting travel destinations, selfies, food, all that nonsense just got boring to me,” says Jordan “Watts” Watson, whose account @love.watts, started in 2011, currently has more than 1.4 million followers. “I was like, I’m a very private person, and this isn’t really me.”
Instead, Watson, who at the time was managing the musician Theophilus London, began to scour the Internet for art and images that struck him. “I started posting different artworks, whether it was a doodle or one of the masters,” he says. “Instagram became like a scrapbook for me.”
His hobby quickly became a profession. Watson began to amass a significant following just as the photo app was becoming a social media, branding, and lifestyle juggernaut. Instagram had about 100 million active monthly users when Watson first began posting art. Now it has more than 700 million, and Watson has shown an uncanny ability to harness the power of his million-plus group of global followers and, just as importantly, to keep them engaged. Watson credits his first big break to Rihanna, who began following him in 2014. “Back in those days, when a major celebrity would follow you, brands, people, followers just started flooding in,” he says.
Today, he not only manages his own account, which features about ten new images a day, but he co-manages @watts.on and @watts.place (combined, they reach over 1 million followers) with the fashion consultant Aureta Thomollari, and, more recently, has begun a business as an art consultant, dealer, and gallery owner. Watson’s newfound role is even more astonishing given he has no formal background in art or art history. “I was never really an art guy,” he says. “I always appreciated beautiful things, but I’d pop into a museum like normal people do, like once every four or five years. And I’d be kind of bored, I guess.”
Instead, Watson, who lives and works in Los Angeles, always followed his aesthetic instinct. “I love colors, and I always shy away from black and white types of images,” he says. “And I like a dark, humorous vibe.” Recent posts include variations on that very theme— a Day-Glo sculpture of a woman’s head (her hair melting into the foreground) by the German artist Reiner Alfred Auer, an image of a pale green snake against a vivid red background by the photographer Elizabeth Rovit, and a picture of a dog in a horse mask, with its owners laughing in the background.
When artists began offering to pay him to post their art, Watson realized he could monetize his account. “It started with artists I’d charge $100 to be posted,” he said. “And then within a year, Tommy Hilfiger reached out,”—asking to be connected with artists for a fashion presentation. It was then, Watson realized, that this was a viable business strategy. “From then on, I was like, ‘Ok. I can do this with everybody.’”
He’s since collaborated with dozens of brands and has turned his Instagram page into what’s effectively a calling card for his art consultancy. The twist, however, is that he works out an arrangement (either monetary or a barter and trade agreement) with the artist in advance rather than charge his clients like a traditional art adviser. “It’s basically a free service for the client,” he says.
Despite, or perhaps because of, his whirlwind success, Watson maintains that he’s improvising every day. “It’s a new beast,” he says, a touch of disbelief in his voice. “I’m just making stuff up as I go along. Now, I’m an art man, who does art stuff. I’m loving it, for sure.”