Sunday, September 12, 2010

33rd Annual Ohio Watercolor Society Show at the CMA

Full disclosure required first. I used to be a watercolor painter from the earliest days of my professional career until I turned 39. After exploring several different directions, I finally realized that the media was too limiting for what I wanted to say. Sure, I had success on the national level of competition including an OWS show way back when, but Ohio is saturated with watercolor painters. If one can’t be as good as the competition, then find another sport, so I did. The long time arts critic to our north did a full review of the show in a recent edition of the Akron BJ and I am sure it is online someplace. I viewed the show last week and don’t feel I can match (nor do I want to) her in depth analysis.

Ohio has a long and rich tradition of illustration and graphic arts due to the number of businesses located in Cleveland that relied on traditional imagery. Water media is a staple of the realists’ world. I say water “media” because that is where I will focus my essay on this show. But first, before my snarkiness gets the best of me, let’s hit the highlights.

I was delighted to see a piece by a long time Cleveland area artist whose work I have admired. He has always to my knowledge been primarily an acrylic painter so to see his style in transparent (not saying watercolor and I will say why shortly) media was refreshing. George Kocar’s “Behind the Curtain: Pablo Looks at Judith” is a fun piece and thankfully divergent from the frankly boring pieces that occupied the gallery. I counted the following: Street scenes (5), Figures (16), Items and still life (7), Landscapes (24), Animals (3), Floral (3), Abstracts (10), Groups (1), Boats (1), and “creative” (8). A whole heck of a lot of these pictures used some type of projector or scanned image so as to draw the picture first before applying the water “media”. When a pencil mark is even in tone (no hint of change of pressure as in sketching), no eraser marks disturbing the surface of delicate paper (which paint would pick up) and not one false use of color or a tone outside the lines, one can clearly see the fill in the blank nature of painting. Personally, I feel that sucks the life right out of a picture. Sure, I used to sketch out an under-drawing, but somehow that base picture was not the one to finally occupy the page. I had a professor that called the unpredictable nature of water media as being the source of happy accidents and those accidents led to richer work. The images in this OWS show are for the most part technically perfect. Not a lot of happy going on, but they do make you ooh and ahhh over skill! It is an impressive show as far as the depiction of people, places and things, it just does not have much to “say”. If this were a restaurant, then the menu has plenty of meat and potatoes, some with added garnish, but as far as gourmet selections….not really. A few delicious desserts are scattered throughout, but one can scan each category of menu options rather rapidly.

Some more pieces of note belong to Mary Ann Boysen, Gail Peters, and Billie Richards. The piece by Kit Dailey is much like Kocar’s in its tribute to the joy of color. Why am I not giving you the titles? Frustrating isn’t it? My intent with this blog is to get people to go see the shows I write about. Give you enough information to intrigue or piss off and then you have to go see what I am talking about. My opinion as to what is good or bad or boring is not from any viewpoint that I am imbued with some knowledge to justify that I know what I am talking about. I don’t have that ability or that level of training; I just want to ripple the waters enough to bring things to the surface. (and I like to write too!)

On to my big beef with this show….labels! Every single one listed the media as “watercolor”. No no NO!! The works were made of transparent watercolor, gouache, acrylics, inks, sprayers, collage, casein and a few things that must have been watercolor pencils and pens. The show application did not require artists to list the media used to make their work (I looked it up to be sure) which is a huge disservice to the viewing public. The CMA had no choice but to list them all as watercolor. What a shame. How can one expose children (or anybody for that matter) to the different possibilities of a media if no “media” is listed? It is insanely obvious that an image done on a slick paper with inks is not the same as a collage or an acrylic on canvas (shame on that one….the rules said framed and under plexi so how an acrylic on canvas got in there is beyond me). So if the entries to the judge have no basis upon which to judge the use of the media then I guess it all came down to the quality of the image itself.

Second beef is with dates (again). The prospectus only says that work must be three years old or less and as artists we sign the form stating we understand the terms and are begin honest that our work is our own and meets the time frame. With very few (if any that I could see) works dated on the piece near the signature, it is fairly easy to slip by that little detail. Who is to know? How can one check? A piece could be long past its expiration date but still get in the show. I respect an artist who puts the date on their work. The reason that many watercolorists do not is that commercial reproduction companies request that dates be left off. They can market a piece easier if it is not dated. The buyers (often hotels, restaurants and card companies) don’t want dated work, it must appear timeless. But if an artist has been painting pretty much the same images over a 20 year career, how does one know where the piece fits into the big picture? I find that little tidbit of info rather relevant.

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