by Molly Rutledge
A familiar childhood pastime for many of us, watercolor conjures memories of Crayola sets and painting at the dining room table. It is a special artistic medium deeply rooted in personal histories, and also the histories of artists, art movements, and entire art communities.
The Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery challenges perceptions of watercolor, peers into Ohio’s artistic past, and provides a glimpse of its future in A Century of Ohio Watercolor, on display January 29 through April 15, 2015. The show’s curator Charlotte Gordon, artistic director of the Southern Ohio Museum, Portsmouth (SOM), stated that the exhibition, “showcases watercolor painting from around the state and across the decades from Impressionism to Postmodernism. It exposes what was happening within the walls of studios around Ohio from artists that reflect the state’s cultural and sociological diversity.”
Beginning the century-long display, audiences will catch a glimpse of Alice Schille’s paintings. Schille was exposed to emerging art movements abroad such as Impressionism and Fauvism, and brought them back to Columbus, Ohio, where she lived and taught at the Columbus Art School (now the Columbus College of Art & Design). The two pieces in this exhibition reflect her overarching impact and influence that helped further important art movements in Ohio and the Midwest.
Like Schille, Emerson Burkhart worked and lived in Columbus, Ohio. While both Burkhart and Schille frequently painted scenes of everyday life, Burkhart’s work specifically captured the American Midwest, revealing Ohio’s past through his signature Regionalist paintings. Street Scene, one of two Burkhart works on display in the Riffe Gallery, captures Columbus’ darker days during the end of the Great Depression. Watercolor provided Burkhart the ability to capture this specific, fleeting moment and simultaneously convey a stagnant, dark, and relatable era in our nation’s history.
Effective not only in realistic representations, watercolor is frequently used to paint across various subject matter, styles, and techniques. Even pop art icon Roy Lichtenstein painted with watercolor on occasion. Lichtenstein studied and taught at The Ohio State University and later lived in Cleveland for more than 10 years. The Sheriff, included in this exhibition, was created in 1952 while he lived in Ohio. The humorous subject matter and cartoon-like manner of The Sheriff foreshadows work the artist created during the 1960s Pop Art movement and reminds us great artists experiment and work through various mediums and art movements in their careers.
Watercolor continues to be a versatile and varied medium in the work of contemporary Ohio artists. The singular, fleeting moment conveyed by the lush, painterly pears in Fred Fochtman’s still life, Pear Study, is countered by a sense of prolonged stillness in Will Reader’s austere, calm, hyper-realist wintry landscape, New Growth. The watercolor medium perfectly captures these two moments of artistic reflection. Both artists successfully express a sense of familiarity through their portrayals of common, everyday subjects despite their differing artistic styles. The variety of approaches to the watercolor medium seen in A Century of Ohio Watercolor comes together as part of a greater narrative and a common connectedness.
Enjoy the history, tradition, and artistic excellence in A Century of Ohio Watercolor, then grab a paintbrush, Ohio. Here’s to the next century!
Learn more about A Century of Ohio Watercolor and related events here.