BOISSEVAIN -- They weren't exactly days of debauchery, but artist Darcy J. Watt's time in Hollywood included swimming naked in the Playboy mansion grotto and a party life that was as hectic on weeknights as on weekends.
He got a job at the Fox network until it became apparent his duties included serving as sexual stand-in for his female boss's husband.
That wasn't for him. Home started to look very, very good. Being an artist in the country looked even better.
Today, Watt is a full-time artist working from an art studio on the third floor of a century-old house in Boissevain, where he lives with his wife and two children.
"If it wasn't for living in the country, I wouldn't be able to live and work like this," said Watt, 37. "If I was living in the city, I couldn't be an artist full-time. I wouldn't even be able to cover my bills."
Watt's art graces everything from CD covers to rock posters to rock-band T-shirts and stage sets. He has worked with performers ranging from Guns N' Roses to Willie Nelson to Cirque du Soleil. His portrait for Nelson's 80th birthday is of the singer with his braids wrapped around him like overgrown ivy on an abandoned farmhouse.
Watt's art is hard to categorize, but it often delves into the realm of myth and fantasy. It can be heavily lined, like a drawing by famed cartoon artist Robert Crumb. He also works with woodcuts on an old printing press. His website is darcyjwatt.com.
"People are quite blown away that his art is being created down the street," said Casey Guenther, who, with wife Christina, runs the 1894 Art Centre in Boissevain, a community-run site where some of Watt's work is showcased. "The Internet allows artists to work and sell their work from out of a small community," Guenther said.
It's not unusual for people such as Watt to move away and come back. Guenther was away for a dozen years before returning to work in graphics and web design. As much as the southwestern part of Manitoba is known for its conservative politics at election time, it maintains a surprisingly vibrant community of artists, musicians and small-scale traditional farmers.
Watt was raised by adoptive parents in Dauphin and later moved to Brandon. He's not interested in finding his birth parents but attributes the wanderlust that landed him in Hollywood to "an innate sense of abandonment" he felt as an adoptee.
From 1999 to 2007, he lived back and forth between Hollywood and Calgary. He teamed up with Susie Dietter, a director from The Simpsons and Futurama TV shows until 2008, to work on an animated horror anthology series. After years of working on the series, it wasn't picked up. He also lived with artist Angus Oblong, the creator of 2001 TV series, The Oblongs.
But his L.A. friends were already established and regulars on the showbiz party circuit, whereas Watt needed to spend more time on his art. "I was overwhelmed with the pace," he said.
The Playboy mansion visit was from a contest he won. He enjoyed it, calling it "Disney for adults." He equates Playboy models to Disney employees who dress up as Mickey Mouse, and not just because both wear suits that are hot in their own way. "(The models) come out and play volleyball, but it became obvious they were doing their shift."
Watt worked on the anthology and exhibited at art shows and sold art to support himself. His work back then was angry and full of angst. He thought he was getting it out of his system, but it was drawing him deeper into that world because it attracted fans with the same mindset.
Breaking with the L.A. lifestyle landed him in Boissevain.
"To go for lunch in Los Angeles, with the commute, was your entire day. And the meeting might or might not turn into something. Here, you can get a million things done in that time," Watt said.