Watercolor Wisconsin, Wustum Art Museum, Racine

by Gary John Gresl

Jean Crane, "Endangered Garden II", 2005, Watercolor, Photo by Jon Bolton
Watercolor Wisconsin runs from December 11, 2005 – April 22, 2006, Hours Tues - Sat 10-5

Allow me to acknowledge that probably all the persons included in Watercolor Wisconsin have much more intimate knowledge of and ability to use water media than does this writer. I am merely an observer with my own tastes, inclinations and disinclinations.

It seems to me that one should not approach an exhibit of watercolors anticipating coming away stupefied and excited due to progressive methods and never before seen images. The medium has long had a reputation for being somewhat staid and predictable, often with some limiting rules in place that prevent quantum leaps into new forms of water media expression.

That being said, it is my belief that this exhibit is diversified and intriguing, and well worth a long drive to see the 89 pieces by 75 artists, chosen from 270 submitted works. The quality of many, if not most, of the works is fine, with some exhibiting great control and understanding of the medium. There are beautiful things here, as well as some curious and progressive works. One can find collage, paper constructions and assemblage, mixed with the watercolors, acrylics, gouaches and inks.
The first prize winner is an example of something progressive and non traditional. Dara Larson offers an assemblage incorporating a book with pages wrinkled by watercolor images together with a robot like human head in a box. This piece, titled “Simplified Human”, incorporates selected objects, acrylic, watercolor, water graphite, ink and the found book. Dara’s other entry located in the rear upper gallery is an ever unfolding water ink suggestive of doodles and dreamlike feral images.

There are beautifully executed pieces by established masters of the watercolor medium, such as Lee Weiss, Jean Crane, and JoAnna Poehlmann, among many others. Lee O’Daniel presents the viewer with two beautifully rendered images of birds that rival any I have seen.

There are other less traditional pieces by artists like Jerrold Belland’s “Baltimore Oriole with Healers”, and Chuck Wickler with one of his minimalist hard edged word-play pieces titled “The New Constytution” (sic). There are progressive images linked to a line of human figural imagery by Amy Misurelli-Sorensen and Gayle Riordan. There is delightful humor in a beautifully executed comic piece titled, “Frog Leg Special” by George Ronsholdt.

It seems to me that Watercolor Wisconsin offers at least a touch of something for almost everyone who is not hoping for highly modern and/or conceptual art, or art that just knocks your socks off. This is an exhibit with high water media qualities and beauties deserving of praise and study.

There were 29 awards given to a variety of works and styles. The jurors were Robert McCauley, Professor and Chair, Art Department, Rockford College, Rockford, IL, and Susan Sensemann, Professor, University of IL School of Art and Design, Chicago. Numerous members of Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors are included in the exhibit and among the award winners.