Art has been a lifelong passion for Olalla resident Carla O’Connor.
She started down the artistic path at a young age and has spent her life learning, creating and supporting fellow artists.
“I’ve been doing it my entire life. Since the time I was nine years old and traveling with my mother in Europe, I was painting plein air. I was painting in oils and watercolors in Paris and Venice,” she said. “Like many young girls, I wanted to be a ballerina but my knees didn’t agree. So the only other thing I knew how to do was paint and draw, so I focused on that in my education.”
O’Connor took home third place in the Northwest Watercolor Society’s (NWWS) 77th Annual International Open Exhibition for her painting “The Harlequin.” The exhibition is on display at the Harbor History Museum through June 9.
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This is not her first appearance — or first award — with the society. O’Connor has been a member of the NWWS for more than 30 years, has juried the exhibition three times, taught classes for the society and taken home the top prize on several previous exhibitions.
I’ve been doing it my entire life. Since the time I was nine years old and traveling with my mother in Europe, I was painting plein air.
Carla O’Connor, artist
“I’ve always tried to support the society because it’s a fine one,” she said. “There’s many fine artists in the Puget Sound, so I always enter.”
O’Connor holds a bachelor’s in fine arts in painting from Kent State University in Ohio and has done additional formal study at the University of the Americas in Mexico City, the University of Dayton in Ohio and the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. She received classical training in oils in college and has expanded her experience in other mediums over her career.
“I think it’s important that you really have a thorough knowledge of the mediums so that you don’t have to think about them anymore when you’re using them,” she explained. “When you meet an inspiring instructor or another artists that’s why you try to change your mediums, When you’re using mediums it’s whatever one best expresses what you’re trying to express.”
Her painting “The Harlequin” was created using the gouache method. Gouache is an opaque type of watermedia with the paint composed of pigment, water and a binding agent, with the pigment particles typically larger than watercolor paints, and a white filler, such as chalk, may be added to the paint.
“It’s sort of one step beyond transparent watercolor,” O’Connor explained. “What it does is change the composition of the intensity of the paint so that it sits on top of the canvas or board and allows the artist more manipulation of the paint, similar to oils ... it’s not a traditional use of watercolor.”
When you meet an inspiring instructor or another artists that’s why you try to change your mediums, When you’re using mediums it’s whatever one best expresses what you’re trying to express.
Though it’s not a traditional watercolor method, many societies have expanded their definition of watercolor.
“Most watercolor societies have opened their arms to anything that they call ‘water medium,’ so anything diluted with water,” she said. “It’s just a sign of our times; you just cannot be to stuck with rules and traditions.”
Her inspiration for “The Harlequin” came from an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum that was focused on masks.
“That exhibit was so inspirational to me that it got me thinking about how we all wear masks,” O’Connor said. “I did a lot of research from different areas and (found) the Harlequin, which is a clown and is always a mask … the decoration on her face is an actual historic decoration which a Harlequin would wear. I kind of made her a little sad so it shows the mask underneath the clown.”
More than 60 artists joined O’Connor in the NWWS International Open Exhibition from six countries and 19 states, chosen from more than 400 entries submitted from 275 artists. The show was juried by Keiko Tanabe.
The first-place prize went to “Backstage Adjustments” by Bev Jozwiak from Vancouver, Washington, and second place to “God fall into the mortal” by Chun-Nan Chen from New Taipei City, Taiwan.
Gig Harbor artist George Milliken also participated in the exhibition with his painting “A Gaggle of Skiffs.”
I think art is a visual reference of our times (and) I’m very sorry to see that always being put on the bottom. I think it addresses a person’s soul. It’s supposed to be that everybody sees something a little different and I think every artists tries to say ‘see it through my eyes.’
Now living in Olalla, O’Connor has been a Gig Harbor resident for more than 30 years. Art has remained important to her and she believes that art is essential to everyone, as a personal form of expression and as a society.
“I do think art is important in many respects. It’s very concerning to me that all the arts are being eliminated out of our education because I feel there’s a strong need that the creative side of everyone to be addressed,” she said. “I think art is a visual reference of our times (and) I’m very sorry to see that always being put on the bottom. I think it addresses a person’s soul. It’s supposed to be that everybody sees something a little different and I think every artists tries to say ‘see it through my eyes.’”
The exhibition will be on display through June 9 at the Harbor History Museum, 4121 Harborview Drive in Gig Harbor.