Every year the American Art Co. in downtown Tacoma plays host to the Northwest Watercolor Society’s international show, and every year there’s a lot of what you’d expect from watercolorists: soft-petalled gardens, nostalgic portraits with blurry shadows, women chatting in pools of sunshine, bright tropical flowers with fuzzy backgrounds. And yes, there’s some of that in this year’s show, the society’s 74th. But there’s also quite a lot of exploration in pushing the boundaries of this medium in style, technique and composition.
Winning second place, Carla O’Connor does a woman with flowers, but in a Klimt-ian way, offering a side-profile with stern nose and dark hair, flowing down into a jungle of teal, lilac and white, a collage of shapes and objects jumbled and flattened into a two-dimensional quilt. In third place, Ted Nuttall does a portrait (self-portrait?) of a bare-chested man in a plain-walled room in front of what turns out to be an easel – but the simplicity is stripped away by the flecks of red paint spattering his face, skin and pants like blood, and the resigned, disillusioned look in the eyes and tilt of the head.
Liz Walker and Anne Baletic both do portraits, but use striking, highly-saturated hues: an aqua dress, vermillion hair, fuschia legs, confronting the reader with an alternate reality.
There are the usual array of watercolor landscapes – fishing boats, beaches – but a number of artists have taken the time to reimagine the world as defined by watery pigment, not the other way around. Birgit O’Connor explores a delicate light texture of gray stones nestled under an overhang, while Sherri Bails gives a beach scene a print-like quality. Award-winner Peggi Habets creates a dream-like, child-like illustration – a woman tiredly sweeping gold-dusted cobblestones, surrounded by a magical, rainbow-hued city of stone.
Iain Stewart paints the “Queensboro Bridge” in sepia tones, with marvelous detail on car headlamps and smog; Woon Lam Ng paints a street food scene in – where? Asia? Africa? – by hinting at faces, conversations and bright canopies with clever, minimal brushstrokes.
Finally, juror Donna Zagotta also shows a work: “That way,” a New York street scene detailed with thick wodges and streaky textures, looking more like an acrylic, with a highly mid-century feel to the perspective.
10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday through June 6 (closed Memorial Day weekend). Free. American Art Co., 1126 Broadway, Tacoma. 253-272-4327, americanartco.com