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Watercolor and the Landscape: Selections From the Permanent Collection


The Harwood Museum announces the exhibition Watercolor and the Landscape: Selections From the Permanent Collection which is on view from January 21 through March 18, 2001 in the George E. Foster, Jr. Gallery for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. Watercolor and the Landscape includes outstanding examples of works by John Marin, Victor Higgins, Cady (Henry) Wells, Keith Crown, Michio Takayama, Dean Porter, and others. The paintings selected for this exhibition illustrate a variety of styles from traditional realism to semi-abstraction. For all of their differences, however, what they have in common is the choice of the northern New Mexico landscape as subject. The watercolors in the show were painted between the 1920s and the 1990s. The artists included represent some of the leading masters of the medium who have worked in New Mexico. (left: Victor Higgins, Canyon/Landscape, c.1929, watercolor, Harwood Museum)

Harwood Museum Curator David Witt explains: "Watercolor is at once both a medium of spontaneity and of great difficulty. The artist generally works quickly before the wet paint dries. Major mistakes are usually fatal to the painting as they are not easily corrected. Over-painting can sometimes muddy the image. Constantly working on the edge of disaster, however, has its advantages. The intuitive aspects of the artist's creativity comes into play: with so little time to think, the artist must instead act, bringing all the years of painting experience to bear on this one fleeting moment. It is both easy to apply and difficult to control. (Dean Porter, St. Francis de Asis, 1993, watercolor, Harwood Museum)

Used as a wash, or puddled into more intense passages, watercolor has a transparent quality which, when applied on white paper or silk, gives a wonderful brightness to the painting. The pigment is held together with a gum binder derived from acacia trees. The medium has long been used for formal painting in Europe and Asia. (left: Cady Wells, Morada Ni Di, watercolor, Harwood Museum)

Using watercolor on paper is a less expensive way of making a painting than preparing the stretcher and canvas required for oils. A sheet of paper worked with a thin layer of paint enjoyed great popularity in 1930s Taos with artists who were both short on cash and who needed to create work for sale at a lower price than that commanded by their oils.

John Marin (1872-1953), one of the leading twentieth century American painters, worked in Taos during the summers of 1929 and 1930, creating an important body of about one hundred watercolors. He also set off a revolution in terms of style and use of the medium itself, influencing many of the resident artists including Victor Higgins and Andrew Dasburg. Higgins (1884-1949), a member of the Taos Society of Artists, painted primarily in oils during his early Taos years, but in the 1930s he flourished as a watercolorist. In the 1930s and 1940s, Cady Wells (1904-1954), who had come to Taos as a student of Andrew Dasburg, built into his paintings structural elements to give the landscape architectural solidity. Keith Crown (b. 1918), a painter and art professor based in California, began his long association with Taos in 1956. Returning here to paint most years since then, he has brought to his work a dynamic modernist sensibility. Michio Takayama (1903-1994), a Japanese-born artist, moved to Taos in 1966. Best known for his lyrical Abstract Expressionist painting, his vibrant water media work has just come to light in the past three years. Dean Porter (b. 1939), Victor Higgin's biographer, draws inspiration from the earlier Taos artists while putting his own contemporary stamp on the medium,

All of these artists and the others in the exhibition Watercolor and the Landscape: Selections From the Permanent Collection are part of a long and popular tradition of creating works of art on paper. New Mexico has proved to be a particularly fertile ground for watercolorists. Bright colors contrast with moody atmosphere and expansive vistas play off against nearby detail as these talented artists make use of one of the most versatile yet challenging painting forms."

About David L.Witt

David L. Witt is a writer, curator, and organizational leader whose credits include twice winning the Border Regional Library Association Southwest Book Award for Spirit Ascendant: The Art and Life of Patrociñio Barela and for Taos Moderns: Art of the New. He is also author of and contributor to other books and writer of dozens of articles and essays. He established the New Mexico Art History Conference and the Southwest Art History Council (a professional organization of art historians) and is a past president of the New Mexico Association of Museums. During more than twenty years as curator of the Harwood Museum of the University of New Mexico, he has organized scores of exhibitions and developed a major art historical and photo archive. He is a recognized authority on the art history of New Mexico and the Southwest as well as a specialist in museum and art institution operations. He first visited New Mexico in 1969 and first came to Taos in 1972 where he currently resides.

Readers may also enjoy stories on the Taos Society of Artists and the Santa Fe Colony of Artists.

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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