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Sunburst watercolors on display at Bernice Kish Gallery in Columbia

“Burnside Bridge - Antietam”
“Burnside Bridge - Antietam” (HANDOUT)

Not every artist sees things exactly the same way in the group exhibit “Watercolor Visions 2017” at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House. What these artists have in common, though, is that they are all students of Alice Webb at her Sunburst Studio. Webb also has work in the show.

The versatility of watercolor as a medium allows an artist to decide the extent to which the watercolor should, er, flow in a composition. Several artists depicting bridges, for instance, vary in terms of how precisely they render the architecture and surrounding landscape.

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In Pat Winter’s “Burnside Bridge - Antietam,” the old stone bridge on that Western Maryland Civil War site is depicted with crisp lines for the stones used to construct both the bridge and the wall beside the stream. The watercolor is applied so precisely that it is well-behaved and stays within the lines.

Similarly, Alice Gersh’s “Amsterdam Canal Boat” deploys sharply defined lines in order to depict a boat passing under a bridge in that Dutch city. The overall impression made by this watercolor is of a calm and clean place that seems really civilized and inviting.

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The watercolor application is looser in Virginia Sellner’s “Hidden Bridge.” Although the bridge itself is easy to make out within its forest setting, the artist’s use of melting colors has an emotionally softening effect.

Among the numerous artists in the show favoring floral subjects, one finds a similar range between those who keep everything in a tight focus and those who let their colors run, blend and otherwise cross the lines. Something else to look for in the floral-themed watercolors is how some of the artists like to overwhelm you with densely clustered flowers and others prefer to call your attention to just a few isolated blossoms.

Among those favoring density is Kelly Davis in the watercolor titled “Summer Favorites.” Of course, the reason these particular flowers are in such close proximity is that they have been picked and now reside in a white vase. Although there is nothing else in the picture, it’s nice to imagine that somebody happily gathered flowers in the garden and now has quite a few of them sharing that vase indoors.

A very different compositional strategy to floral subject matter is adopted by Stella McDonnell, whose “Flower Power” calls your attention to a yellow iris, a purple iris and a blue iris. There are a few accompanying green leaves, but there is also a lot of unpainted white space between the flowers and leaves. As one often finds with watercolor artists, there is an awareness of when it's visually preferable to leave considerable sections of the backing paper unpainted.

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Another sparely conceived watercolor is Ann Boone's “Apples to Apples,” whose pictorial lineup consists of a single yellow apple, a single red apple and a single green apple. It’s nice to be able to concentrate on just a few specimens in order to better appreciate variations in shape and color.

And a viewer's attention really gets concentrated by Anne Scheurer's “Pink Rose.” It depicts a single red rosebud and several green leaves. Moreover, the picture itself is very small and therefore prompts you to pull up close for a better inspection.

Because of the lively assortment of colors available to artists, it's understandable that some of the resulting watercolors take full advantage of relatively large pictorial areas given the all-over treatment with assertive colors.

In Dalia Isicoff’s “My Sycamore,” for instance, a thick tree trunk is backed by a deep blue background. It's a simply conceived picture that is about primal shapes and colors as much as it is about any specific scene in nature.

Bold color choices are also made by Virginia Sellner in her watercolor “Homeward Bound.” Off in the background of this rural scene is an old farmhouse whose blue walls and red roof are exercises in color as much as in representing an actual location. What makes this particular watercolor a bit more stylistically complex, however, is that the foreground makes a very different use of watercolor. Here the artist uses a very spare application of brown and yellow to suggest a parched field. The starkness of that grassy field and its reliance on areas of blank white paper inevitably remind one of how that masterful watercolor artist, Andrew Wyeth, presented austere landscapes.

For an extremely different landscape, have a look at Karen Dunlop’s “Do Not Resuscitate.” Its depiction of junked cars includes an old ambulance that itself has had an accident. Seeing the bent front bumper of that ambulance makes the work’s title an invitation to smile.

Although there is not a lot of portraiture in this exhibit, there are some pictures of people and pets. Where the latter is concerned, cat lovers will really enjoy Linda Armstrong’s “Big Eyes.” It’s a close-up portrait of a cat whose gray-eyed stare will prompt you to be the first one to blink. What’s especially impressive about this watercolor is how well the brush strokes give a keen sense of the cat's brown and white fur.

And people get in the picture in a seasonally appropriate manner in a watercolor by Melodee Yates, “Peace on Earth,” depicting three children seated in the snow. They have their backs to us, because they are facing a cross that glows in the night sky.

“Watercolor Visions 2017” runs through Dec. 16 at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village in Columbia. Call 410-730-3987 or go to gallery@wildelake.org

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