Watercolor Wisconsin… Still Worth the Trip

by Gary John Gresl

The Wustum Art Museum, Racine, is celebrating its 40th year of creating Watercolor Wisconsin, the well known traditional state wide exhibition. In fact, later in 2007 the Wustum will be extending its celebration later in ‘07 with an exhibition of the watercolors it has acquired thru its long established policy of purchase awards from the exhibit. The current juried exhibition continues thru April 21, and is the second such show that I have reported about in Art in Wisconsin.

This show permits works which are more adventurous than some watercolor societies that impose limitations such as only transparent watercolor medium, no acrylics, gouache, or mixed media. Watercolor Wisconsin allows variety for greater freedom for expression.

In the show there are 76 piece from 74 artists selected from a total of 244 works entered into the jurying by 138 artists. The viewer will find traditional images as well as those one might call more progressive, but there is probably nothing truly daring, nothing dangerous and nothing obscene or calling out for criticism by art conservatives or liberals.

Yet one might observe a few pieces as a bit more daring in comparison to most works in the exhibit. For example, pieces such as Maggie Venn’s “Unfolding #2”, apparently made from a torn layer of cardboard or thick paper which is further violated by tearing circular holes to form a pattern across its entire surface, and Chuck Wickler’s ongoing exploration of word play and collage in his “Liars/Lairs”.

But 99% of the quality offerings are not unexpected, but the jury has not included anything unworthy. There are beautiful renderings of natural places, persons and objects. There are realistic portrayals of still lifes and gorgeous handling of watery transparent paint as in Anne Miotike’s “Spring Shades”. There is the seductive detail of works like Lee O’Daniel’s Red-eyed Vireo and JoAnna Poehlmann’s “Doing the Polka”. Then there are the bolder brush worked images in Theron Caldwell Ris’s “Beloved Coco” and the humor of Jerrold Belland’s two accepted works.

Watercolor Wisconsin should not disappoint the visitor, unless the visitor is expecting to be bowled over by “what’s hot” among the avant-garde. This is a show for the person who appreciates the subtleties and expertise of the watercolor medium. In our national culture of overnight wonders, media hype, 15 minute memories and exciting block buster events, this show breathes slowly, deeply and thoughtfully. It always has seemed to, and that is probably how it will go on.