by Anthony Harrison
“I have always highly regarded artists who’ve mastered watercolors,” said Jackson Mayshark, owner of Greensboro’s Ambleside Gallery.
Relevant to his interest, Mayshark currently holds the honor of showing the American Watercolor Society’s Traveling Exhibition, a selection of some of the best watercolor paintings in the country and the world, at his gallery.
Adding to the honors, this year marks the first time Greensboro was selected as a hosting city for the exhibit in its 147-year history.
The traveling exhibit begins at the AWS gallery in New York before going on a cross-country tour. This year, the exhibit visited Fairhope, Ala.; Plainview, Texas; McCook, Neb.; and Van Wert, Ohio before ending the tour at Ambleside.
Mayshark secured Ambleside’s showing via tried-and-true networking.
“I represent two of their signature members, Leslie Frontz and Guan Weixing,” Mayshark said. “It was perhaps a longshot, but I mentioned to an artist that maybe they’d like to have their Southeast exhibit here. Lo and behold, I got a phone call.
“I didn’t have to think very long to reply,” Mayshark continued.
According to Mayshark, Ambleside has already enjoyed steady traffic due to the exhibit, especially on its March 13 opening.
“Whoever came, came for the show, and the gallery was packed on a cold, drizzly evening,” Mayshark said.
Mayshark said people have come to the gallery from across the country, including one woman who wasn’t in New York City during the exhibit’s Big Apple debut.
When viewing the work selected by the society, one can see why watercolor fans would make the trip to visit it however possible.
The watercolor society awarded Stephen Quiller of Creede, Colo. its Gold Medal of Honor for his piece, “Transparency of Shadows,” a wintry landscape of trees at the edge of a pond. However, such a simple description betrays the beauty of the piece.
Sunlight sets the trees in fiery orange and even renders the surrounding snow a sandy tan. Quiller played with perspective, melding depth and flatness, evident when comparing the foreground with the presumably uphill background. And the namesake shadows of the trees seem ghostly in their complexity, fading out into the snow.
Costa Mesa, Calif. artist George James’ “A Cubist Lunch” garnered the AWS Silver Medal. Four figures, seated in various states of dress, are broken by geometric patterns — rectangular boxes frame their faces, for example. Blue and purple dominate the painting, but an orange block on the blue curtain at the left and the scarlet curtain on the right distract the eye.
“A Sunlit Morning, Companions” by Singapore’s Woon Lam Ng received the Bronze Medal of Honor. An urban scene, two dogs — perhaps the title’s companions — root around at trash in the foreground; behind them, buildings lean in toward each other, supporting the depth of field and perhaps serving as companions themselves, much like the canine pair.
While the dozens of paintings come from artists far and wide, the AWS exhibit also features the work of two North Carolina painters: the aforementioned Frontz of Lexington and Susan Webb Tregay of Hendersonville.
Tregay’s piece, “Manhattan Spring,” received the watercolor society’s Joan Ashley Rothermel Award. The painting shows four men sitting along a lengthy white-pavement stoop and enjoying some takeout, presumably during their lunch break due to their business-casual dress accompanied by stylish sunglasses. In the foreground is a woman with her back to the viewer, completely anonymous and monolithic in black, save for her giant, red shoulder bag.
“Chinese Red” by Frontz, a signature member of the watercolor society, earned the society’s Alden Bryan Memorial Award. Interestingly enough, Frontz portrayed a relatively foreign urban scene, just like her state-mate Tregay. As with “Manhattan Spring,” red holds the eye in “Chinese Red” — no big surprise there. However, instead of a close-up of a specific, relatable event, Frontz is more abstractly “everyday.” In her painting, five people simply stroll up the sidewalk in front of a Chinese storefront, completely anonymous. They could be anyone, and, unlike Tregay’s specifically dropped mention of Manhattan, this scene could be anywhere from an American Chinatown to a narrow Shanghai side street, going anywhere and doing anything.
Aside from these pieces, the paintings in the exhibit range in style from photorealistic to abstract, utilizing any water-based medium from acrylic and gouache to traditional, transparent watercolor.
Mayshark hopes the exhibit will continue spurring interest in watercolor paintings in America.
“Here, the general mass of watercolors receive less appreciation than oil paintings,” Mayshark said. “But I appreciate ‘less is more’ — there can be an economy of brushstrokes, but a great deal is said.”