Meet Jordan Watson, the artist who brought an airport terminal to Glastonbury: 'I'm buzzing with ideas – next time I want a sniffer dog'

Jordan Watson outside Terminal 1 at Glastonbury ( Sebastian Miller)
Jordan Watson outside Terminal 1 at Glastonbury ( Sebastian Miller)

The first time Emily Eavis’s team contacted the New York artist and digital entrepreneur Jordan Watson – or Love Watts as he’s known to his 2 million Instagram followers – about a possible Glastonbury collaboration, he didn’t respond.

“I’d heard of it,” he says of the festival, “but I had no idea what it was all about.” When they hit him up a second time, he rang his British manager, Posey Collis, and asked her: “Is this Glastonbury thing worth it?”

The friendly and slickly-dressed 44-year old, with a tattoo of a prancing bull covering one side of his head, is sitting with me outside KXGym in Chelsea. He thankfully ended up responding to Eavis’s call and is fresh from curating Glastonbury’s inaugural Terminal 1 installation, a life-size replica of Heathrow’s arrivals hall made up of four stacked shipping containers, complete with a check-in desk, security and passport checks.

Separately he also created (in collaboration with designer and animator Tobias Lever) the on-site posters for Idris Elba’s charity, Don’t Stop Your Future.

Eavis's focus for Terminal 1 was to tell the story of travel from an immigrant’s perspective; for attendees to experience first-hand how demeaning and tough the experience can be for anyone arriving from a third-world country.

Last Sunday afternoon at Glastonbury, I queued for an hour to get in. Word had quickly spread about Terminal 1 across the festival and people were turning up in droves.

It was surreal, just like arriving at a real airport (many of the structural elements were sourced from Heathrow’s archive) but that’s where the similarities ended. African art covered the walls and every surface, as did migrant stories. A dreadlocked DJ stationed by the departures board played Afrobeats and visual artist Isho’s air traffic video installations played in a fake air traffic control room.

At passport control, I was comically/aggressively grilled by a performer acting as a border force agent who wouldn’t let me through until I’d responded to a barrage of questions, such as “What year did the Roman Empire collapse?” No clue, I was sent to the back of the queue.

 (Lara Shapiro)
(Lara Shapiro)

I eventually got through. Next came security, where my shoes and bag were thrown on the floor and I was searched, my hands above my head. It felt like being in a movie or a Punchdrunk immersive theatre experience but it made a point – a sobering slap in the face to the sea of mostly white ravers in attendance.

Watson, who describes his upbringing alongside his two younger siblings as “poor and black” was born in 1979 in Jamaica, Queens, later moving to Long Island with his family at 13. His parents, who were both part-time artists (his mother painted and his father was a wood sculptor), worked as social workers in a mental institution but had a side hustle selling hand-made leather belts from a booth on South Street Seaport.

“The smell of leather is still so nostalgic for me,” Watson says. But apart from a Picasso print hanging on the wall at home, he had little exposure to art growing up. “I did not go to a gallery or a museum until I was an adult,” he says.

Watson always knew he wanted to make money, particularly after a stint working in a fancy watch store called Tourneau where he sold Omega and Rolex watches. “I looked great in a suit, I looked sharp, it was my intro into luxury.”

While visiting a job fair he noticed the commotion around a brokerage stand. “There was all this excitement. I thought, I want to do whatever these guys are doing.” He joined the “chop shop” as non-Wall Street institutions are called, passed the necessary NYSE exams and spent two years selling shares. “Put it this way, everything you see on the Wolf of Wall Street is true.”

When the 2008 market crash happened, he swerved to selling weed. “My clients were more excited to buy it than stocks. I had some money, I had a beautiful loft in Brooklyn.” He gave it up after two years, scared he would end up in jail and started hanging out with rappers, peddling their CDs on the streets. His lightbulb moment came the first time he heard Theophilus London’s mix tape. “I fell in love, his show gave me goose bumps. Music was now my hustle and I became his manager. We were inseparable for the next 12 years.”

 (Sebastian Miller)
(Sebastian Miller)

Together, they toured the world. They worked with Karl Lagerfeld who shot London’s album cover; they hung out with Kanye West and Virgil Abloh, who nicknamed Watson “Young Gagosian”. But the partnership with London ended when he became, according to Watson, unmanageable. “I tried to keep Theo on the straight and narrow but he turned into a lunatic.”

Watson had always been drawn to art but felt increasingly thwarted by its lack of inclusivity. In 2011, he decided to democratise the selling of it by building a digital platform which he named Love Watts, and through which he sold limited edition prints by emerging and established artists (available to buy in a 24-hour window) for $45.

“I’ve been curating and supporting artists in every single medium,” he says. “My drive came from my not having access. All I knew growing up was graffiti art. I wanted to break the walls down.” Word spread quickly and his followers now include Rihanna, Katy Perry, Diplo, Gigi Hadid and Dua Lipa, among others and he has worked with Coach and Louis Vuitton on artistic collaborations.

Following a stint living in Mexico City during Covid, he has also recently morphed into becoming an artist himself, and now sells large painted canvasses through his London-based dealer, former Pace Gallery president and co-founder of immersive art installation platform Superblue, Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst.

Watson and I speak after he and his Columbian model wife (“she makes me look expensive” he says) and six-month baby girl arrive back in New York. “I went through customs at JFK last night. It was so easy. Immigrants have to join a two-year waiting list just to get an appointment to see if they have a chance to apply for a US tourist visa. That’s why Terminal 1 is such a genius idea.”

So what does he make of Glastonbury now? “Seeing everyone in the fields, the energy of the people, everyone was in vibes mode. There was not one fight, no one pushing each other. I loved Block 9, Shangrila and Fred Again’s secret set in Strummerville. I just wanted to soak up the energy. I loved all the art everywhere – every bin was hand-painted. I couldn’t believe it.”

Eavis is already talking to Watson about next year’s festival. “I’m buzzing with ideas, improvements here and there. This time I want a drug sniffer dog patrolling. Not an actual sniffer dog, of course.” That’s lucky, I say.