I am always looking out for artwork, especially watercolors and other works on paper, that are interesting; something intriguing or perhaps even truly compelling.
When I was full-time college artist-educator, I would always be on the lookout for any/every type of work to share with my students. Now, some of you may know that, besides drawing, I work quite a bit with various aqueous media and most often in/or with watercolor. So it probably wouldn’t surprise you that finding exciting, new work done in watercolor is a quest of mine. It has been for many years.
There are lots of fine watercolorists out there … but there is too much repetition and far too much acceptance of staid approaches to the medium.
Please don’t get me wrong, using a a traditional figurative approach is fine … and I LOVE beautifully made images created that way … just as long as there is something new, fresh, or personal about the work. Conversely, I grow quite bored with a lot that I am seeing when looking at so many of the contemporary artists working in the watercolor medium.
This is sad because watercolor has often been on a cutting edge, been a medium for artists to experiment and play with new ideas. Just think of Kandinsky, O’Keefe, etc. It has also been a medium to use for long term exploration of visions and concepts. We have no further to look than such diverse artists like Klee, Klimt, Demuth, Marin, Burchfield or the Wyeths.
I want to find new images made with watercolor, new ways of working, or new examples of the absolute mastery of combining technique, design, and content using watercolor. New art! Please!
Beautiful Weed, Mary’s Garden, watercolor sketch over pencil, 5 x 11, 2014
With that in mind … there are five artists whose work in watercolor has caught or has recaptured my attention; Artin, Forge, Gibson, Nickson, and Sinclair.
Roman Forum from Via dei Fori Imperiali, 20 x 11, 1999
Wendy Artin’s work is a handsome modernization of traditional media combined with a very classically based content. An artist who is working now, Artin has begun to gain some critical and popular attention. I think that I first came across her images a year or more ago in either an issue of Drawing or Watercolour. Since I still teach a few college drawing courses each year … I was excited to share her work with my students. But for me personally, it was her nearly monochromatic watercolor wash drawings that intrigue!
Some of Artin’s pieces have the fluidity of a great Tiepolo; others have hints of the moodiness in a wash drawing by the French artist who also worked in Italy … Claude Lorraine.
Cinecittà, 40 x18cm, 2000
She finds a balance between playfulness and a sense of “veritas” in her work; while combining “wet-into-wet” areas, dry brush techniques and judiciously reserved white/negative spaces with apparent ease.
The renewed and refreshed classicism of her work … not to mention the gutsy design and mimetic rigor of works like Parasol Pine Panorama (below), can take my breath away.
Parasol Pine Panorama, watercolor on Khadi paper, 76 x 30 cm, 2008
Andrew Forge was born and studied art in England where he taught at the Slade School of Art, Goldsmiths College, and the University of Reading. He emigrated to the US and taught at Cooper Union, New York Studio School, and taught painting at, and served as Dean of, the School of Art at Yale before he died in 2002. His work as an educator and as an art writer/art critic was well grounded in his painting.
untitled. Watercolor, 14.5 x 10, 1962
Forge seems to have worked his way visually and intellectually through the various styles of modernism. One thing that I see in his paintings is an early encounter with Cezanne’s way of visually processing an image into an arrangement of color patches on a surface.
And, in his later work, Forge also seems to have followed that manner and concluded with a further joyful abstraction. His work of the 70-90s has all the delicate spareness one might expect from an artist steeped in classical clarity, nuanced perception, and a humane visual playfulness.
untitled, 23 x 15, 1993
I came across John Gibson’s work at least 20, or maybe 25+ years ago. I saw it … and it printed in publications. I could surely see that it was good work, bold and confident. But after looking at a number of examples, it frankly appeared to be to much the same thing over and over. I grew jaded and, yes, bored. Mea Maxima Culpa!
Somerville, 34×92, 2014
You see, Gibson works on a basically simple premise … creating believable an image of 3-d sphere(s) on a totally 2-d surface. This is the old (Renaissance “old”) task of visually rendering space and form. And Gibson does throw in a visual treat that some might find to be a bit of visual irony … almost all of the spheres he depicts are decorated with patterns.
3-in-a-line, watercolor, 48 x 56
As I said, I got it; I grew bored. I moved on. Yes, I occasionally used one of his images to help me teach form in a drawing, studio painting, or watercolor class, but that was about it.
Frankly, without running across it again and again, I didn’t have much time to really be ensnared by its charms. And there are charms in this work.
Recently however, something drew me back to look at his work some more. After 30 years are so … I felt a desire to re-examine his spheres. Maybe it is a desire to understand his obsession. Or to just be charmed!
What ever it was, I am glad I did. As I let the obvious similarities slide past, I could begin to see just how sumptuous his color was … how rich and yet carefully he used color to assist in the rendering of BOTH rounded forms and the “vapor” of depth and space.
Hidden Web, watercolor, 32 × 44, 2009
These are not easy, facile works but they are quite confidently put together. I see no design magic here; rather there is a solid, logical construction to these images. The color isn’t flashy either, instead it is finely balanced and so deliciously worked into the substance of the painting.
Well, those are three of the artists whose work in watercolor I am finding exciting or challenging right now. My hope is that you saw something new or interesting too. I will finish up writing about the other two (Nickson and Sinclair) very shortly and post an addendum quite soon.
Right now though, the studio is calling !!!
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