Customs House Museum Through July 27
WORDS Karen Parr-Moody
Somewhere between fact and fiction lie the best watercolor paintings. They are the paintings that tease out a shy glow from the veil of translucent color. They allow the paints to dance and mingle on the paper in a magical way.
They create hues that don’t come naturally to the subjects yet imbue them with a sense of quiet grandeur.
Such works are found in the 36th Juried Exhibition of 60 water-media artworks by members of the Tennessee Watercolor Society. These artworks, which include a Best in Show painting and a variety of other winners, will be on display at the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center in Clarksville through Friday, July 27. This is only the second time that Clarksville has been selected as a host city since the society began its statewide juried competition in 1972.
Terri Jordan, Curator of Exhibits at Customs House Museum and Cultural Center, says the show is a wonderful representation of styles, from Photorealism to Impressionism to Abstract, that take advantage of watercolor’s unique properties. “It shows how much talent there is in Tennessee,” Jordan says.
Painter Judy Lavoie won Best in Show for her 22″ x 30″ painting Eat Chicken, which possesses an incredible luminescence created by colors that gleam like opals.
“Clearly, it is just a magnificent piece,” Jordan says of Eat Chicken. “It’s just such a familiar scene that it’s a pleasing piece, but then you get up close and start looking at how talented Judy is with her use of the medium, the flow of color to color. She’s a very confident painter, and I think that comes out in her use of color. It’s just beautifully done.”
Lavoie painted the piece by using only three primary colors—Winsor & Newton’s Antwerp Blue, Winsor Red, and Winsor Yellow—which she chose because they blend well into bright secondary colors rather than into muddier browns or grays. To achieve her desired aesthetic, Lavoie employed a variety of techniques, including masking, pouring, drying, and finally, direct brush painting. It was her first time to paint what she calls “farm critters” up close and, obviously, she chose wisely.
The exhibition’s juror was Lian Quan Zhen, an international watercolor artist and instructor whose own paintings are Impressionistic in style. Zhen has been conducting watercolor workshops for more than twenty years and has published five books on the topic. During the opening week of the show, he conducted a five-day watercolor workshop at the museum. Zhen judged the artworks in the show by a handful of criteria, beginning with works by artists who “paint what they want to see, not paint what they see.”
He says, “If they paint what they see, it’s just like a photo; it’s what they see. But if they paint what they want to see, they put a personal touch on the painting.”
Zhen is also attracted to paintings, such as Eat Chicken, that use color in a creative fashion. “Sometimes color is boring, as with cows,” he says. “With Eat Chicken, you never see cows in real life with that much color, in general. You almost have to be drunk to see those things! It’s a creation; this is not just a simple copy.”
Every juried piece in the show is by an artist who has mastered the medium and watercolor techniques. But that alone isn’t enough to take the top prize. Zhen was also looking at composition, as with Eat Chicken, which maintains a strong design through the use of the farm gates for framing and the slightly off-center cow as the subject that grasps the viewer’s gaze. Then, of course, a painter must imbue his or her painting with life.
“They must capture the essence of the subject,” Zhen says. “Like the cows: You can almost talk to them and they want to talk to you. There’s life in them. This is a higher level. This means you captured the spirit or the essence of the subjects.”
Most important of all? Zhen says that any painting that wins Best in Show must have a specific style that is distinct to the painter. “The Best of the Show is personality,” he says. “When people look at paintings from the masters, they don’t even need to be told, ‘This is da Vinci’ or ‘This is Renoir.’ They recognize the personality. So, above all, is personality. Sometimes painters can be very high level, but they lack personality.”
After leaving the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center, thirty of the exhibit’s paintings will go on the road in the Exhibition Traveling Show. The show will be on view at three galleries in Tennessee: the West Tennessee Regional Art Center (WTRAC) in Humboldt in August, the Sycamore Shoals Visitor Center Gallery in Elizabethton in September, and the Association of Visual Arts (AVA) in Chattanooga in October.
For more information, visit www.customshousemuseum.org.