The diversity of watercolor painting itself is taking center stage at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, in a striking show full of bold strokes and intricate line work.
“I hate using the word ‘eclectic,’ ” said Vicki West, chairwoman of the Spokane Watercolor Society’s 2017 Annual Juried Show on now through Oct. 29 at the MAC. “Eclectic is the only way to describe the diverse content, techniques, applications and subject matter. This show has everything.”
“Everything” includes works by more than 130 entrants from Spokane, the region and across the globe.
“Last year, our international entry was from Canada, and this year, it’s from Singapore, so we’re getting out there,” West said. “Which is absolutely thrilling, and that’s our goal, to reach more and more artists, more states, more countries.”
Just west of the main MAC building, two floors of the Helen South Alexander Gallery are dedicated to the scores of paintings that remind art-goers why watercolors are so fascinating. The landscapes, portraits, animals, plants and city scenes include stylized imaginations and abstractions while others offer pure and stunning realism as though lifted from a photograph.
From rapid, impressionistic strokes to meticulous brushwork, the viewer’s admiration increases when considering watercolor’s unforgiving nature. Attempts to correct any mistakes by painting over them would simply muddy and ruin the entire effect.
West’s own watercolor in the show, “All About the Hare!,” is particularly eye-catching, like a deconstructed Albrecht Dürer. It is painted on one piece of paper that bleeds over onto another larger piece of paper, bringing extra attention to the already odd perspective.
West, who won the juried show two years ago, admits there’s a story behind that. She had already finished the smaller painting when she realized it was too small for the show. She added a larger piece of paper behind the original work and just extended the ink lines and painting out from there.
Another unique aspect of the artwork is the way West painted only the eye and ears of the rabbit. Not only does she leave off the nose and mouth, but her line-work morphs into tiny woodland landscapes that emanate from the outline of the rabbit.
“It’s different, and I always want to do something different,” West said. “We see millions of landscapes, millions of children, millions of animals, millions of flowers, and, with this, I don’t do this very often, but I just started throwing color on the paper, letting it dry, and I picked it up and said, “I see a rabbit!”
West is one of several artists from the 50-member SWS appearing in the organization’s 2017 juried show. Other members showing include Joy Gruenewald with moody shore landscapes, Margaret Conrad with close perspective bottles and pots, John Kirkland with men on Harleys and vintage cars, and Bari Federspiel with whimsical teacups.
Other non-members from around the region round out the show with their works, including a piece called “Holding the Heels,” a soulful portrait of a horse’s face by Wyna Woodford of Mosby, Montana. The perspective is so close, only the rider’s legs are visible.
“You can just feel the emotion in that horse. Who cares about the rider?” West said. “The background is not entirely formed, but the horse’s eyes … I don’t think jurors focus on paintings looking realistic or like copies.”
The sole juror for the SWS show is internationally known artist Jean Pederson of Calgary, Alberta. Pederson is the author of “Expressive Portraits: Creative Methods for Painting People” and will lead a three-day intensive workshop in the MAC classroom on Wednesday, Thursday and Oct. 20.
On Oct. 20, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Eric A. Johnston auditorium next to the MAC, cash prizes will be awarded to the top three submissions. In addition, 18 artists will receive merchant prizes consisting of art supplies.
At the awards ceremony, four awards will be given to group members in honor of four SWS members who died during the past year: Dian Zahner, who co-founded Avenue West Gallery; Fabian Napolsky, who was passionate about plein air painting; Jean Judge, who volunteered much of her time creating art for Gonzaga Prep auctions; and Jack Rogers, who was still actively painting just two weeks before he died at the age of 94.
After the full 2017 Annual SWS Juried Show ends on Oct. 29, SWS members only will continue to display their works in the gallery through Nov. 26. Then from that group, a dozen will be chosen to remain on display through the end of the year.