Like many of their fruity brethren, pears and strawberries have provided the subject for innumerable watercolor still lifes in the past — yet most of these earnest efforts have produced middling if not worse results at best.
But not so with the 8 pieces of produce so artfully arranged and painted by one of the signature winners of the 34th Annual Virginia Watercolor Society Juried Exhibition, where 108 works incorporating a more-than-usual allotment of vision and talent are on view through May 26 at Hampton's Charles H. Taylor Arts Center.
Created by Fairfax artist Chris Krupinski, "Pears and Strawberries on a Quilt" easily ranks among those uncommon yet welcome images that immediately make you stop, look and pay attention — then deliver on that interruption with an admirable performance in the mysteries of manipulating color, light and shape as well as the elements of a complex composition.
And it's far from the only painting here that reflects a polished talent working at a high level.
For many years, this juried exhibit has been recognized as a showcase for some of the state's most accomplished watercolor artists — and the 2013 edition is no exception.
From traditional still lifes, landscapes and portraits to the experimental and abstract, it offers most viewers much more color and craftsmanship than they can easily absorb in a single walk through the exhibit. So well-honed and executed are some of the very best still life and landscape images here that you may have to come back for a second visit.
Krupinski's large, vibrant painting offers some of the most convincing proof, beginning with the long row of pears and strawberries she arranges in an apparently haphazard yet strategic line that moves diagonally across the top of the picture.
Framed by an inky black background, two green-skinned pears stand proud while a third tumbles haplessly over on its side. Interspersed among them a string of bright-red strawberries adds still more shape, attitude and color to the image as well as a foil for the bigger and more noticeably contoured pears.
Despite all the care and attention she devotes to this beautifully laid-out and painted passage, however, the artist pours still more thought and work into the folded expanse of pieced, colored and patterned fabric squares that eases out from beneath the line of fruit and tumbles down across the middle and bottom portions of the picture.
In the end she fills up some three-quarters of a relatively large painting with what is essentially a bold and optically charged abstract composition — yet one that sidles up to us in the deceptively familiar form of a homespun quilt.
Rising up from the other side of the spectrum is Williamsburg artist Dorothy Grebos, who won the 2013 Chairman's Award with a non-representational image that appears at first to violate one of the medium's cardinal doctrines.
Where Krupinski's painting is all about the clean, sharp lines, colors and shapes that define most traditional watercolor work, Grebos' "Murmurs" is defiantly not. Instead she bumps up against the age-old danger of shoving her medium over the edge into the realm of the mixed and muddy.
In her hands, however, what results is a persuasive demonstration of the ability of gesture to conjure up passages of subtle mystery as well as near-muscular power.
Layering various colors as well as brush strokes of different size and direction, she creates a largely undefined kind of abstract landscape filled with both fluid, cascading energy and half-hidden detail. And just when you think you've taken in every single zig-zag or spatter of paint, she finds ways to make you stumble across something else.
Plenty of other works deserve attention here, too, including Arlington artist Katherine Sullivan's handsome, pattern-filled likeness of a bristling mass of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.
And don't miss Yorktown artist Stephanie Schmuck's enigmatic "Old Man in Chair," a shadowy minimalist portrait that abandons the traditionally rich color and narrative simplicity of the medium for something far more mysterious and potentially darker.
Erickson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 757-247-4783. Find his visual art stories at dailypress.com/entertainment/arts and Facebook.com/dpentertainment
Want to go?
The Thirty-Fourth Virginia Watercolor Society Juried Exhibition 2013
Where: Charles H. Taylor Arts Center, 4205 Victoria Blvd., Hampton
When: Through May 26
Info: 757-727-1490; http://www.hamptonarts.net
Online: Go to dailypress.com/watercolors2013 to see a gallery of images from the show.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun