Watercolor exhibit is awash with talent and vision

An old arts organization is still producing new work. Dating back to 1885, the Baltimore Watercolor Society is the third oldest organization in the country dedicated to water media. Judging from its current exhibit at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House, it's a lively group.

The exhibiting members often take full advantage of their fluid medium's ability to establish a mood that washes over the viewer. In Deborah Hoeper's "Night Moon," for instance, the moon is a white orb above melting hues of black, gray and white. You're immersed in the near-monochromatic atmosphere.

A seasonal scene relying on melting colors is Bonita Glaser's "Autumn Accent." This watercolor's depiction of a wooden footbridge nestled in the forest is crisply rendered, but the backing trees are a somewhat blurry merger of greens, browns and yellows.

There's more melting to be seen in Barbara Langford's "Eggplants," which offers a closeup view of two specimens. The purple forms are recognizable, but they're slightly abstracted and fuzzy around the sides. Also, the background essentially is comprised of the interplay of colors including purple.

Carolyn Councell's "Hills of Oella" features a realistically rendered house and church that are immersed in a pastoral setting that's dominated by misty greens.

If such watercolors flirt with abstraction, Al Bishop pushes into pure abstraction with "Horizon." It's a horizontally oriented watercolor whose purple- and pink-toned bands of color evoke the intensity of a sunset. There's no need for anything more than the surrounding expanse of white paper, because you're meant to focus on the assertively colorful feeling expressed by the sky itself.

The abstract orientation of some of the artists is contrasted in this exhibit by a greater number of artists who are more exactingly representational in their approach to the medium.

Among the portraits, Kathleen Stumpfel's "The Observer" presents a face that is tightly cropped at both the forehead and the chin. The wide-eyed subject basically stares us down here. Although it's a realistic portrait, you'll notice that the artist's strategic application of watercolor leaves some areas of the composition uncolored. Empty space helps to highlight these eyes all the more.

Another tightly cropped composition is Stephanie Lyon's "Old Country Church." The church steeple is depicted with sharp lines that call your attention to its architectural style, but the area around it is handled with the looser application of white paint. Again, exacting representation is accompanied by more gestural brushwork.

Other examples of tight cropping that pulls the viewer up to the subject include Jeannette Birger's "Queen Anne's Lace," in which you notice the numerous white floral dots that collectively make up this particular flower; and Stephanie Lyon's "Pride of Pumpkins," in which the plump pumpkins are piled high, as if awaiting your purchase.

Also exhibiting are Betty Ganley, Marita Gebhardt, Kay Sandler, Joan Tarbell Plato, Freda Lee-McCann, April Rimpo, Chris Dodd, Kate Martin, Jacquelyn Dinora, Sharon Green, Wanda Hurt, Janet Epstein, Harold Walpert, Jing-Jy Chen and Karen Schuster.

The Baltimore Watercolor Society exhibits through Dec. 15 at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village Green in Columbia. Call 410-730-3987 or go to http://www.wildelake.org.

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