Mystery can add a seductive lure to painting.
That cryptic sense of the unknown reigns throughout works by about 70 artists exhibiting in the New Mexico Watercolor Society’s 2021 fall exhibition at the Expo New Mexico Fine Arts Building. The annual show runs through Oct. 24.
Woody Duncan’s watercolor of a sculptor defying gravity balancing one foot on a ladder and the other on his 21-foot three-headed creation raises questions about risk, symbolism and enigma.
Duncan stumbled upon the high-wire sculptor on a visit to Santa Fe’s Form & Concept Gallery.
According to Form & Concept, the sculpture symbolizes a process of communal grieving. The artist Tigre Mashaal-Lively wove the robes from personal garments and heirlooms donated by friends, family and community members.
Duncan talked to Mashaal-Lively about the piece called “The Solacii” and photographed Mashaal-Lively working on it.
“It was different; it was fascinating,” the Albuquerque artist said. “It was all covered with cloth. It wasn’t quite finished.”
Two weeks later, he learned someone had vandalized the piece. Santa Fe police are investigating the incident.
“Apparently, someone had set fire to it,” Duncan said. “A lot of the cloth was gone.”
To create the painting, Duncan began experimenting with a new method, a primer called Gesso Juice that produced a white acrylic ground.
“I used a corner of a credit card to scrape the surface,” he said. “It left a lot of streaks and textures. I’ve always appreciated the mistakes in watercolor. The watercolor medium acts strange on the gesso; it doesn’t absorb into the paper. It has lots of ridges and textures.”
Duncan has been a watercolor artist for 35 years. He worked as a middle school teacher in Kansas before retiring here 17 years ago.
Los Ranchos watercolor artist Joyce Rapp captured a portrait of a mysterious land iguana while vacationing in the Galapagos. She photographed the lizard, then painted the image at home.
“I didn’t need a telephoto lens,” she said. “They’re not afraid of people at all. I like to paint from my photos of trips.”
A retired software programmer, Rapp took up watercolor when she retired 11 years ago. She read books on the subject and took classes.
“I just always liked seeing watercolor and I don’t have a formal art background at all,” she said. “I’ve never tried anything else. I like the look of it. And it’s not messy.”
Unlike many artists, she doesn’t begin with a drawing.
“I’ll project the image and then I can refine it if I need to,” she said. “It’s a time-saver because what I really love is the painting part.”
She hopes to travel to New Zealand next.
The India-born Mary McWilliams came to the U.S. to earn a doctorate at the University of Arizona in 20th century literature. She taught part time when she and her husband moved to San Diego. They also own a home in Placitas.
Looking to learn a new skill, McWilliams began painting in 2018 and took a few classes.
“People told me all the time that watercolor was very difficult,” she said. “I took that as a challenge.”
Citing Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything, she began painting five hours a day.
Three years ago, McWilliams became a member of the New Mexico Watercolor Society. Last year, she took second place in a competitive show.
Her painting “Are You Looking at Me?” emerged from a photograph of an older woman squinting in sparkly jewelry, augmented by a nose ring.
“I was fascinated by the look in her eyes and her jewelry,” McWilliams said.
She likes to focus on portraits of those most of us ignore.
“I want to shine the light on people who are not considered beautiful by society,” she said. “There is beauty everywhere.”