Currently, there are over 130 watercolors in the NBMAA’s exhibition The Great American Watercolor, on view through July 3. About 20 of these are by living artists who continue to explore thisvaried and nuanced medium. Here we will explore 3 such artworks.
The first painting is Fallen Mias by Walton Ford (b. 1960). Ford was born in White Plains, New York and identifies deeply with his family’s Southern ancestry. These Southern ties have had a strong influence on Ford’s sensitivity to nature’s bounty, and have also drawn him to appreciate the art of the traditional Southern naturalist, John James Audubon (1785-1851). Ford adopted Audubon’s style of brightly colored animal and bird illustrations, yet he goes beyond the meticulous aesthetics to add a deeper meaning. For example, contemporary cultural Darwinism is hinted at in some of his paintings. He studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and has received many fellowships since 1989 when he moved to New York.
Fallen Mias, “mias” being the Indonesian word for orangutans, is a critical depiction of environmentalist Biruté Galdikas’s and humankind’s involvement with orangutan wildlife. An adult male orangutan angrily swings across the canvas, forcing the two younger orangutans to flee in fright. In his hand he menacingly wields a camera high above his head as the woman in the lower left hand, presumably Galdikas, struggles to chase after him. There is considerable irony in this work as it portrays the scientist being confronted and assailed by the very subject she is trying to protect. The drama and irony is further heightened by the raging inferno seen in the distance, its billowing smoke blackening the jungle landscape and skies.
The next painting is by Varujan Boghosian (b. 1926) entitled King’s Crown. Boghosian is best known for his unique constructions made of a variety of incongruous objects and old relics such as weathered barn doors, antique dolls’ heads, marbles, and ping-pong balls. He was born in New Britain, Connecticut to Armenian immigrants, where his father worked at the Stanley Tool Works. After serving in the United States Navy during World War II, he entered the Vesper George School of Art in Boston. In 1953, he received a Fulbright grant to paint in Italy, and from 1956 to 1959, he worked with Josef Albers (1888-1976), a geometric abstractionist, at Yale University. Boghosian’s many works relate to medieval themes of knights and death as well as Greek mythology; themes which he further explored through the writing of his own poetry. Over his career he has received many awards and accolades and has held many teaching positions, including at Dartmouth College. This watercolor was the first work of art by Boghosian ever purchased by a museum.
Reminiscent of a dream or fantasy, King’s Crown is a dark yet whimsical watercolor of a broken and dilapidated manor. The alien landscape surrounding the home juts out in violent tufts, augmenting the dream. Splatters and blotches of reddish browns, blues, and blacks contrast with the sharp lines of the columns, support beams, and staircase, though the blotted shapes echo the spider webs that adorn them. Some details are precise yet others are left unformed or absent. This mysterious vision invites the viewer to examine the notions of home, memory, and mortality.
The third and final painting is #505 Fragmented Myth by C. Ronald Bechtle (b. 1924). Bechtle was born in Philadelphia where he attended Temple University, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The School of Industrial Art, and the Fleisher Memorial Art Foundation. From 1952 to 1955, he studied privately with artist Benton Spruance (1904-1967). Heavily influenced by the works of Piero Della Francesa (c. 1416/1417-1492), Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), and Ashile Gorky (about 1902-1948), Bechtle’s work has primarily been abstract or semi-abstract in character. Though most of his paintings are titled by number, the artist says they are not in chronological order. Working exclusively in watercolor, crayon, pastel and pencil, Bechtle has exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and has been president of Group 55, Philadelphia Abstract Artists.
In what appears to be a bisection of the planet, there is a large area of brown with a small horizon near the top of the painting. The colors are bright, but remain earthen. The paint is applied in loose, wide strokes that surround small and barely recognizable images. In the lower right, they resemble a telephone or a lamp. There also appears to be an image of an earthenware vessel. These images evoke thoughts of an archaeological excavation, or perhaps a graveyard. The watercolor has been drawn over in areas with a crayon. Theinconsistency of the wax strokes against the watercolor adds yet another level of mystery.
What do you think of these paintings? Do you have a favorite? Why or why not? Can you think of any other contemporary watercolor painters? Were there any other contemporary artists that you like in the Great American Watercolor? Could you tell us why you liked/disliked them? Or did you prefer older works like John Singer Sargent’s Tarragona?
Check out The Great America Watercolor, on view through July 3 in the McKernan Gallery at the NBMAA.