When you think of watercolor, what comes to mind? For me, it's pastel landscapes. But after ten years of research, curator Mark Johnson and collaborators from San Francisco State University have organized an unusual watercolor exhibit that incorporates video art, urban art, and controversial, mind-bending art. There are several world-famous California artists represented in the show including Wayne Thiebaud, Barry McGee, Ruth Asawa, Nathan Oliveira, Robert Bechtle, David Hockney, and Li Huayi.
Some of the pieces are several decades old but have never been exhibited publicly, while others were created specifically for the exhibit. Using materials such as gouache, milk, and crayon in combination with political or personal subject matter, the artists (most of whom are not strictly watercolorists) play with a wide range of imagery and materials.
Gail Dawson, a professor at SFSU, painted a delicate tornado of houses that hangs alongside a video screen playing an animated version of the painting. Julio César Morales created four drawings that flank a video screen with headphones. The drawings present commentary on illegal immigration and are rather horrifying when you look closely and realize that Morales has rendered a diagram of how to hide your baby inside a stuffed teddy bear. Morales' video is footage of the fence that borders California and Mexico with a kaleidoscope filter added, creating a pattern that vaguely recalls a serape (a vividly colored traditional Mexican blanket or wrap with bold, angular lines).
A piece from Masami Teraoka's McDonald's Hamburgers Invading Japan series is on display (see detail from #3 in above photo) along with a large-scale seascape he painted with watercolor on loose canvas. Another noteworthy duo of paintings was created by Beth Van Hoesen and Mark Adams, a married couple who are master watercolorists. Seeing the two paintings next to one another seemed to provide an odd (yet unverified) glimpse into their relationship -- Beth's painting was a portrait of Mark. Mark's painting was a portrait of an eggplant. Hmm.
Barry McGee, a.k.a. Twist created new works especially for Pacific Light. The characters in his cluster of framed works are screen-printed with blue and red lines, like images intended to be viewed through 3D glasses. Twist also contributed a mask-like painting of a moustached fellow who looks rather worried (perhaps he's afraid he'll get stolen like much of McGee's early street art). The artist is associated with San Francisco's Mission School, an arguable term given to a select group of artists who spent time in the Mission District in the '90s. Another artist considered to be a product of the Mission School is Alicia McCarthy, whose gouache-on-wood painting of intersecting rainbows was also a favorite.
Pacific Light offers a rare opportunity to see a striking collection of works by California's best-known artists all under one roof. Conscientiously laid out, the exhibit stretches the term watercolor as far as it can go and invites you to revisit the extensive list of influential artists the West Coast has produced. The exhibit will head to Sweden's Nordic Watercolor Museum on October 20, 2007.
Pacific Light: California Watercolor Refracted 1907-2007 runs September 22 through October 20, 2007 at San Francisco State University's Fine Arts Gallery.