“This one makes me feel cold all over,” said my youngest child as she stood in front of a watercolor painting titled “Winter Harbor 2009 #1.”
My three daughters, my parents, and I were spending the morning at the Crary Art Gallery in Warren, Pennsylvania. Up until two weeks ago, I was unaware of the existence of this gallery which was originally built as a residence in the style of a Roman villa. This one-story building is decidedly out of place among the stately and sometimes massive Georgian and Victorian structures which grace the Market Street section of the city that oil built.
The exhibition we were viewing on that sun-dappled autumn Saturday morning was the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society’s 31st Annual Juried Exhibition. Upon entering the gallery, we were informed that a People’s Choice prize would be awarded, and would we be so kind as to take a ballot and place our vote in the ballot box at the end of our visit?
As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, our group of seven which started out together began to break up as we were each drawn to the paintings which inspired and moved us. I lost sight of one daughter, then another, then my parents… From the main gallery to the courtyard gallery; through galleries B, C, and D we strolled, stopped, and stared at 116 paintings.
“Mom, come look at this!”
“Oh, Carol, this one is amazing…”
“Grandpa, look how this one looks just like a photograph…”
“Why did the artist give it that title?”
“That one is weird.”
“That looks like one Aunt Helen would have painted!”
Watercolors are truly amazing. They are adaptable to almost any situation. When you look closely, you can see exactly how a watercolor painting was painted and get a sense of the artist’s personality through the way the paint was applied. And unless the artist used the opaque gouache colors, nothing has been concealed. With watercolors, you cannot paint over something in order to conceal a mistake (as with acrylics and oils)–you have to start over again. In a word, watercolors are transparent. Still, it is the most enjoyable medium with which an artist can work, bringing immediate satisfaction.
Artists are a interesting breed. A strange bunch. I’m allowed to say this for two reasons: I consider myself an artist, and there are many artists in my near and extended family who work in many various media. When an artist creates a work, be it with words, music, marble, or oils, that work is an extension of their innermost being. Heart and soul, sweat and tears go into its creation. That work is lavished with such love and protection, it could be considered a “child” of the artist. The artist thrives when the work is acclaimed. But like a mother bear protecting her cubs, some artists will react with ferocity if the work is threatened or criticized.
I was told that the when the painting “Lost and Found” was awarded first place, its creator began to weep. I was also told that when four artists found they had received no award whatsoever, with the indignation of brats who lost a playground game they removed their paintings from the exhibit. Sadly, their tantrums also removed any possibility of garnering the People’s Choice Award. I wonder if the judges could see this personality trait in the paintings.
We stood inches away from some, picking out the underlying pencil marks and gouache streaks; for others, we stood nearly across the room in order to absorb the effect. Of our group of seven, six distinctly different watercolor paintings were chosen as our own “people’s choice.”
What drew each of us to our personal favorite? For one, it was a feeling of serenity afforded by the scene. For another, the bright patchwork of oranges, reds, and greens creating a fantastical landscape caught and held her eye. For still others, the emotion of feeling at one with the subject of the painting drew them in, as if the artist had painted it just for them.
Art is indeed subjective and very, very emotional. Artists, myself included, must keep in mind that not eveyone will like our creations, and that’s perfectly okay. After all, we create what we like for our own enjoyment. There is no need for a tantrum. There is only beauty in the eye of the creator and the appreciative audience of beholders.