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This article by F.R. Rivera was prepared for the September 18, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Art Review: Watercolor Society

Since its founding in 1970, the stated goal of the

Garden State Watercolor Society has been to encourage and support

fine watercolor painting. The medium seeks — like drawing —

to capture the immediacy of the site, the season, the subject, by

using the informal shorthand of the Impressionist.

Watercolor, inevitably, lives in the shadow of easel painting. This

is not to say, however, that great watercolor cannot be resplendent

in itself. Take, for example, John Singer Sargent who brought his

dazzling brushwork to the medium.

When figures are the subject of watercolor, they are generally

appended

to a landscape or an interior. Rarely do we find full portraiture

of the figure in watercolor. There are notable exceptions to this

practice in the Garden State show. They include Roberta Carter Clark’s

portrait of a full-bearded "Mike" in a wide-brimmed hat. In

James Toogood’s portrait, "Sophia," the subject’s nuanced

complexion of pumpkin and honey is exquisite against a dark green

ground. Far more stylized, but just as memorable, is Santo Pezzutti’s

"A Cup of Tea." Like a raven’s wing, a diagonal swathe of

hair breaks the symmetry of the model’s face.

We’ve come to expect from watercolor — and it is not denied to

us here — depictions of flowers, harbors and boats, seascapes,

and all kinds of landscapes. As Harry Naar, gallery director, writes

in his forward to the show’s catalogue, "Traveling exposed artists

to different types of topography."

Much of this work in the show is skillfully painted. There are a few

examples to the contrary, but most of the watercolors are faithful

documentations of where the artist has been. Outcomes differ very

little from postcards with their tendency to romanticize and sanitize.

Watercolorists would be well advised to avoid prettiness

and embrace inventiveness, as did painter John Marin. Even when he

worked in oil, he adapted the watercolorist’s penchant for leaving

large areas blank. Similarly, the late Larry Rivers annotated large,

open areas with fragmentary marks and washes that are characteristic

of the watercolor approach. This improvisational method invites

viewers

and engages their attention through challenge, rather than feel-good

scenic charm.

An example of this technique is Joyce McAfee’s horizon painting,

entitled

"Take A Moment," where veils of pink, umbers, and pale blues

spread seductively across the sky. Others who achieve these effects

are Jane Law ("Georgia on My Mind [Again]"); and Lucy Graves

McVicker ("Unspeakable Peace III"). In Law’s work, blinding

white — like some concentrate of bleach — purges detail; while

McVicker depicts a pasture of grainy mustard browns and greens in

smoky light.

In Karen Hoffman’s handsome composition "The Weight of Water,"

an arcing curtain of blue descends on a string of pebbles that fold

lovingly into its embrace. Equally abstract is Nancy Lee Kern’s

"Desert

Storm" where a churning cloud of scarlet drubs the earth below.

Similar effects are evident in the work of Walter M. Bill, Robert

Heyer, Annette Novoa, Anthony Ventura, and Joseph Gyursak.

These works are classical watercolors, characterized by the use of

transparent paint that is diluted with water. In its purest form,

watercolor is not opaque. It reserves and protects the virginal white

of the page in order to bring a sparkle to the finished surface. The

white of the paper filters through the paint film to bring a wonderful

luminosity to the work.

These paintings share wall space with a number of works done in

water-based

media (gouache, acrylic, and casein), all of which employ opaque

layering,

killing off the prized white of the page.

There are a few well-intentioned pieces that have the look of magazine

illustrations. Not surprisingly, these offer a literal depiction of

machines.

From the 167 pieces submitted for this show, jurors Joe Frasetta and

Donald W. Patterson selected 49 pieces, 16 of which won cash awards.

Overall, the jurors did a creditable job; and this survey represents

what is going on inside the Garden State Watercolor Society.

— F.R. Rivera

Garden State Watercolor Society, Rider University Art

Gallery, Lawrenceville, 609-896-5325. Awards reception. Gallery open

Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. To

September 27. Saturday, September 21, 2 to 5 p.m.


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