When you walk through the Transparent Watercolor Society of America’s exhibit at the Kenosha Public Museum, you’ll see paintings from top watercolor artists — working in a wide range of styles.
The group’s 43rd annual National Juried Exhibition is a summer treat each year in Kenosha, and it’s available to view (for free) through Aug. 4.
Jurors Laurin McCracken and Linda Daly Baker individually judged more than 900 submissions from the U.S., Canada and Mexico and narrowed it down to an 80-piece display.
“It’s one of the most well-known watercolor exhibits in the United States,” said Donna Jill Witty, the group’s president emeritus. “We’re very proud of it.”
One of the first paintings visitors see when they enter the second-floor exhibit is “Shower of Light” by David Smith of Eden Prairie, Minn.
That painting won the show’s Skyledge Award of Excellence and $4,000 prize. (And it’s for sale for $2,400.)
Witty suggests visitors view “Shower of Light” by standing at a distance to capture the full effect of the painting’s fountain scene.
“It looks like that water is moving when you stand back a bit,” she said. The painting, she added, features “a lot of delicate work.”
Witty was at the museum Sunday afternoon to lead a Gallery Talk.
She explained that “any white you see in a painting in this exhibit is the paper. Artists are not allowed to use white paint.”
Also, she talked about the artistic process, which involves planning and preparation before starting to paint.
“Before you put the first stroke on the paper,” she said, “you already know what your last stroke will be.”
Here are highlights of the free tour, which attracted about 15 people.
In the ‘portrait gallery’
Witty started by walking to the back of the exhibit, an area she calls “the portrait gallery.”
“We received a lot of portraits this year,” she explained. “And most of them are right here in the back area.”
Paintings she highlighted include “Float” by R. Mike Nichols of Salinas, Calif. The bright painting features men and a dog striking poses in Monument Valley. Look carefully at the reflection in the painting’s foreground — the figures are spelling out “float.”
“It’s a fun painting with a delightful sense of humor,” Witty said.
“In the Moment” by Chris Misencik-Bunn of Fredericktown, Ohio, “is one of my favorites,” Witty said of the painting of a laughing woman in the sunshine. “This is her daughter, and she’s so happy in this moment.”
Also in this area is “Solitaire” by Ken Call of Northbrook, Ill., showing a girl in a room. “He does a great job with his use of light and color,” she said.
“Highland Cattle” by Linda Wokoun of Lakewood Ranch, Fla., is also a portrait — just of colorful cattle, not people.
A large red painting in this area — “Painful Story” by Stephen Zhang of Plano, Texas — “appears different because it’s been framed with no mat and non-reflective glass,” Witty said. “The non-glare glass softens the image and diffuses the color a little bit. It’s the artist’s personal choice on how to frame the painting.”
Red Nuttall of Phoenix, Ariz., did a self-portait called “The Morning in My Eyes” that hangs in the “portrait gallery” area of the show.
“He puts ‘sloppy dots’ on his paintings,” Witty explained, “and each one is planned in a style he developed. he uses the dots to focus your attention.” (She added that “he looks just like that” of his self-portrait.)
Dean Mitchell of Tampa, Fla. — one of the top watercolor artists — usually paints architectural subjects, “finding beauty is dilapidated buildings and other objects,” Witty said.
For this exhibit, however, he has a very personal painting on display: “Mom at the Manor,” a portrait of his mother in a nursing home. “This is unual for him,” Witty said. “He doesn’t do a lot of portraits.”
Still lifes on display
Moving toward the front of the exhibit, Witty stopped the tour in front a wall filled with still lifes.
Matthew Bird of Sykesville, Md., painted “Winter” — a dining room table still life — “in the style of a classic Dutch still life,” Witty said, referring to the Dutch Golden Age of painting spanning the 17th century.
Bird, she said, “would have planned the whole thing and set it up in advance very meticulously. He would take hundreds of photos of this scene and move the objects around to study the tone and light on each object.”
Other paintings in the show’s first gallery include:
“The Mooring” by Thomas Schroeder of Cincinnati, Ohio, depicts a boat in the water. “I love this painting,” Witty said. “He takes a subject you’ve seen a thousand times — a boat — and makes it interesting through his use of texture and movement in the water. It gives you a peaceful feeling.”
“DC-3 on the Beach in Iceland” by Peter Jablokow of Evanston, Ill., shows a crashed plane. “This artist was an architect,” Witty said, “and you see all these details on the plane and the landscape.”
“Central Park Shadows” by John Salminen of Duluth, Minn. “He’s another very famous watercolor painter,” Witty said of the retired high school art teacher. “This is also meant to be viewed from farther away. I’ve watched him paint, but I still don’t know how he does this. He pulls it all together.”
O.F. Lodge #1 by Stephen Kuhlman of Louisville, Ky. The artist, Witty said, “uses a lot of texture — he uses paint and granulation to make you think you see every little shape in the painting when you don’t. This is my favorite painting in the show.”
“It’s a Friday Night” by Chris Krupinski of Maineville, Ohio, is another take on a still life. “It’s just popcorn and beer,” Witty said of the painting, “but look how well it’s done. I can smell the popcorn and taste the beer.”
“Indulge” by Denny Bond of East Petersburg, Pa., depicts objects in an ice cream shop. “His paintings are stunning,” Witty said of Bons, who is also an illustrator.
The Transparent Watercolor Society of America, established in Minnesota, set up its exhibit at different venues throughout the Midwest before finding a home at the Kenosha Public Museum, Witty said.
It’s a home that suits the organization and the show well, she added.
“We’ve grown together in what I think of as a nice partnership for both of us,” Witty said.
“The location between Chicago and Milwaukee on the lake brings a tremendous amount of interest to the exhibit.
“It’s a beautiful backdrop for a watercolor exhibition.”
Want to tour the exhibit with an artist? The next free Gallery Talk, with artist Lenox Wallace of the Transparent Watercolor Society, is 2 p.m. July 7. Wallace will walk visitors through the gallery and talk about special techniques and special aspects of the paintings.