has a stigma. Mention of the medium conjures images of washed out
landscapes, sentimental portraits, and above all, flowers
and dozens of flowers. The paintings that come to mind are innocuous,
simply meant to soothe and relax, timeless in their subject matter
and tepid in their temperament. In short, they are white noise of
fine art. And yet, there are artists working against this preconception,
challenging innate bias, and taking on the tradition of watercolor
in a truly contemporary way. The painters in this exhibition, Cindy
Craig, Chris Doyle, Michelle Provenzano, and Cherry Hood create large, bold works that
blend tradition and technology and, in the process, reinvent the medium.
From its inception, watercolor was touted as a portable medium,
ideal for sketches and studies. In 18th century England,
arguably the highpoint of the watercolor history, paintings were
painted en plein air, on-site and from life, and the finished
works were small in size. In contrast, this group of artists introduces
photography and video as source materials and chooses large-scale
depictions in lieu of their more modest fore-bearers.
In Chris Doyle's epic studio scenes, the video camera is ever-present.
Positioned noticeably in the room, it faithfully records staged
events as they unfold. With Doyle the self-portrait has mutated
into a kind of self-surveillance. Aggressive moments of wrestling
are frozen in time, in tableaus that are simultaneously dramatic
and commonplace. Outdated notions of the inherent "femininity" of
the watercolor are challenged by these depictions of "masculine"
competition calling to question the validity of gendering
Taking full advantage of the luminosity of the medium, Doyle
floods these scenes with natural light. Painting with fresh and
saturated color, he depicts all the tools of his practice with faithful
accuracy: the camera, the ladder, the paints. Even when items are
missing, their presence is felt. In Making Endless Love,
the viewer hovers over the artist, no doubt perched on the now familiar
ladder. Locked in a perpetual loop of viewing, the painting records
the artist recording himself drawing into question the idea
of mediated viewing and creating an alternate sense of timelessness.
Ideas of performance and observation are also present in Michelle
Provenzano's Lounges Series. Created from accumulated
video stills gathered in Japanese private karaoke rooms, the paintings
pan across the scene combining multiple viewpoints. This dissected
view allows for more visual information and expands the confined
spaces. As with Doyle's paintings, Provenzano's work references
technology as a mediating device. In a similar vein, the paintings
reflect their subject, karaoke, in which an electronic system stands
between the singer and performance, interceding between action and
The scenes revel in their artificiality, while the painterly
treatment of densely patterned surfaces references traditional landscapes.
The brightly built up textures camouflage the painting, suggesting
space while simultaneously flattening it. Devoid of natural light,
the uninhabited rooms are independent of day or night. They exist
as private entertainment capsules, separated from the rest of the
world and rented by the hour.
Cindy Craig's watercolors introduce ideas of pleasure as a
commodity, as well. Her oversized paintings depict scenes of mass
consumption: shelves of candy, racks of meat, and aisles and aisles
of products. The crisply painted, sterile environments are odes
to the American Dream in which materialistic pleasures are bought
in bulk. Equally nationalistic is the overzealous work ethic apparent
in the series, as evidenced by the painstaking detail in every square
inch. The contrast between handmade and machine-produced blurs;
the artist's skill creates believable facsimiles while the medium
allows for charming inconsistencies.
Faced with such visual abundance, the viewer begins to detect
difference among the racks of sameness. In comparing these ultimately
identical items, a shopping mentality takes over. Viewing becomes
scanning and raises larger questions about the nature of free choice
in a consumer culture. As in Provenzano's Lounge Series,
these realities are steeped in artificiality: the flavors, the coloring,
the packaging, and the experience. In Candy, Craig plays
up the inherent sweetness of watercolor. The brightly hued, cartoon-like
display is a treat for the eyes, but the stomach-turning array promises
that the short-lived pleasure comes at a price.
A different kind of sweetness is at play in the monumental
portraits of Australian painter, Cherry Hood. Her young subjects
are lovingly painted in a manner that is sentimental but not without
its edge. Created in conjunction with the JT LeRoy novella Harolds
End, the characters in this series are street
children, well versed in the cruelties of humanity. Far from society
portraits, the children are depicted tousled, dirty, and defiant
in their steadfast gaze. Their vulnerability is tempered with steel.
There is a sense of knowing and power behind their stares that borders
on eroticism, making these images challenging on a deeper sociological
Compared to the other artists in the exhibition, Hood chooses
a more ephemeral approach to the medium, blurring colors and allowing
the paint to drip and blossom as it streams down the page. The fluid
effect is one of fading impermanence, an apt allusion to the ultimately
unseen nature of these forgotten children. Taken from obsessively
gathered photographs, the paintings are specific in a way that demands
attention. Cherry Hood manages to capture innocence and tenderness
that exists despite the realities of the outside world. These fleeting
moments of connection seem to barely exist on the page, threatening
to wash away at any moment.
Brazen yet nuanced, this group of artists push beyond the expected,
using the inherent qualities of the medium to move past the merely
scenic or vaguely topical. The large-scale works do not scream for
attention, but they demand it. Investigating cultural issues with
current technology, the artists deny the timeless serenity of earlier
work and create images that are thoroughly modern. They successfully
dispel existing stigma with a forceful grace that asks the viewer
to look past the flowers and see watercolor as it is, a fresh, vibrant,
and contemporary medium.