By CHRISTINA LAUREL
Written for Artkestry
The ambient air created by 15 female watercolorists exhibiting in the 1570 Gallery beckons the viewer to walk in their gardens, share their favorite landscapes, and reminisce over their Mother’s sewing box. While “Making the Ordinary Extraordinary” is an ambitious title conjuring great expectations, the actual 1570 Gallery experience is more one of familiarity, where the artists have turned our attention to the illuminating quality of the ordinary.
The artists – Karen Blossom, Kathleen Bobb, Karen DeSantis, Lois DeWitt, Gwen Coleman, Virginia Kaufer, Linda Keefer, Jeanne Leasure, Kathy Lindsley, Marilyn Monkelbaan, Jean O’Brien, Ginny Palumbos, Bea Rosenbloom, Terry Schwartz, and Lois Zebelman – share a common passion for watercolor, a similar palette, and a common inspiration: their teacher M. Wendy Gwirtzman. In the more than 50 works, craftsmanship shines, subject matter is accessible, and the scale is residential-friendly.
Watercolor is a medium that appears easy but requires mastery of technique; practice, practice, practice. It appears that Gwirtzman’s students are doing just that, applying paint with deftness and fluidity. The majority of the paintings focus on plant life and flowers, but these are not flowers as seen through Georgia O’Keefe’s lens, where botanical anatomy is probed, magnified, and abstracted. These flowers are more akin to the French Impressionists: Monet, Caillebotte, Renoir.
DeSantis’ “Hibiscus” successfully combines the formal elements of composition, value, and color to create depth, as does O’Brien in her small format “Japanese Anemone,” and Monkelbaan in “Sunflowers.” A small work by Keefer, “Tulips,” showcases an outcropping of flowers whose height is accentuated by a backdrop of vertical siding, while scumbling of the blush-pink petals softens and dissolves the edges into the white background. It is sfumato meeting simplicity, refreshingly so. In DeSantis’ “Fresh Air,” it is texture that trumps the other formal elements; the rough deteriorating exterior wall, the peeling paint on the window frame, the terra cotta-boxed red geraniums, and the crisp white cotton eyelet curtain wafting in the open window.
However, not all images herald warm weather. Zebelman’s “Snowy Day in Central Park” reveals the power of restraint, of using the paper to one’s advantage by leaving it untouched to depict the negative space (snow), of limiting color to an almost monochromatic palette, and of accentuating the gesture of the trees via a heightened play of values. Kaufer’s “Blue Barn” is an edge-of-winter scene where snow and sunlit colored landscapes coexist, but it is not the faded indigo barn that captivates the viewer, it is the dance of the tree cast shadows. O’Brien’s “Street in China” shows yet another season: a one-point perspective cityscape populated by umbrellaed pedestrians, a street drizzled in reflective rain, out of focus, and a perfect subject for employing the wet-on-wet watecolor technique.
Several still lifes round out the exhibit: Monkelbaan’s “Cut Crystal,” an impersonal yet proficient study of light, reflective glass, and drapery; O’Brien’s “My Mother’s Legacy,” an aerial view of translucent eyelet trim and sewing notions, a personal trip back in time and memory; and, one of my personal favorites, Blossom’s “Sepia Pears,” the value study of a fruit triad that can easily be described as lustrous and luscious.
Only three aspects spoil the totality of the exhibit: two empty wall spots where Zebelman’s work has been removed and not replaced; the self-consciously overlapping leaf from picture plane to mat in Blossom’s “Coneflower”; and Bobb’s blaring “Silk Dyer” which seems out of place both in scale, color, and subject. That being said, the exhibit is a worthwhile gallery outing and a delight to the senses.
“Making the Ordinary Extraordinary” is on view in 1570 Gallery, 1570 East Avenue (entrance also via University Avenue), Rochester, NY 14610; Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm; weekends by appointment, 585-770-1923. Enter Vallery Manor’s lobby, sign in, and receive directions from the concierge; take the elevator to the Gallery on the ground floor, which is located at the end of the hallway on the left, past the dining room and gift shop. To arrange a tour, call Jean Pope Boyle, Gallery Curator. www.seniorsfirst.com/valleymanor/active-senior-living.htm