I have the good fortune to live an easy driving distance from quite a few excellent art museums. I am not one to attend every museum or special exhibit, just because it is there. I honestly would much rather be painting than look and read about what others have painted 100 years ago. But there are exceptions.
Recently I joined a friend to see ‘American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent’ at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I had been anticipating this show and was excited to be going. This was a special exhibit with a limited run of only 2 ½ months. It chronicled the rise of watercolor in America following the creation of the American Watercolor Society. It featured many works by Winslow Homer, who I have always admired, so that was a bonus.
I have written previously about watercolor being my first love as an artist. I loved everything about it. Fluidity. Transparency. Luminosity. Yet over the years I transitioned to pastel as my primary medium. No misunderstanding here, I still love pastel. I have no plans to abandon it. Yet, as has happened on previous occasions, watercolor continues to call me back ‘to have another go’.
As a watercolorist, I tended to work in a controlled manner. Some could be critical of this tight method of working. Others would paint very loosely. I loved how they painted, yet when I tried to paint that way, it just didn’t feel finished. I would end up trying to reign it back in, to control it. One of the reasons I transitioned to pastel, was that I could work more expressively, yet maintain the appearance of control.
The American Watercolor exhibit displayed works that were highly tight and controlled. (Photos were not permitted, or I would be sharing examples here.) The show also displayed works that were quite loose and fluid, as well as everything in between. I saw many examples of transparent watercolor being combined with opaque watercolor, commonly known as gouache. (My early lessons discouraged this combination of transparent and opaque watercolors.) Part of the way through the exhibit I became aware that regardless of any critical opinion, I had history on my side. I can choose to paint in my previous controlled style, or let loose and splash the paint on with abandon. I can paint transparently, or use opaque paint to communicate my concept. Whatever my approach, I will be in good company with some of the most accomplished watercolor artists in history. That alone was worth the drive into the city!