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A Survey Exhibition at Meridian West Art Gallery

Watercolor Marches On

"City Hall" by Carol Siracuse.

Buffalo’s vibrant art scene continues to grow as new exhibition venues seem to pop up every year. That expansion is spreading in the northern reaches of the city, and one of those newcomers is Meridian West Art Gallery, which proudly stakes their claim as “the only fine arts gallery and arts center on Hertel west of Colvin Avenue.”

The gallery began operating earlier this year with an exhibition of work by the new members of the Buffalo Society of Artists, followed by a group photography exhibition. When it was decided that their April offering would focus on the media of watercolor, they instinctively turned to the grande dame of that media, Rita Argen Auerbach, to organize the exhibition. With the catchy title Water in Motion and armed with her personal mission to provide gallery-goers with “an opportunity to view the best of watercolor past and present,” Auerbach assembled work by several of the most recognized (historic and contemporary) watercolorists in the region and a few emerging artists who also work with the media. Although limited in scope due to the size of the gallery, the 40 artworks by 16 artists that comprise the exhibition illustrate very well the wide range of stylistic and technical approaches that are explored by artists painting with watercolor. It is that range and the high quality of the work that are the principal strengths of this exhibition that includes abstraction and realism and varying combinations of these two categories.

There are number of very satisfying ways to view this exhibition and one is to simply examine closely the effects that can be achieved when an artist applies wet pigment to either wet or dry paper. The chromatically explosive Expanding Universe by Joe Orffeo is a spectacular painting that demonstrates how the artist uses the fluidity of the paint, in varying pigments, to create mesmerizing illusory textures. Ani Hoover describes her chosen materials as “water media” rather than watercolor since she also uses fluid acrylic to develop her signature color rich compositions of circular forms. She freely blends these materials to maximize the alluring transparent and translucent effects of each and the resulting illusion of depth of field.

Landscape is well represented and this provides an opportunity to look at how varying levels of abstraction and realism are utilized by several of the artists as they approach this genre. The dynamism of Robert Blair’s rigorous brushwork and energized swirling colors in Horses in Evening Light sharply contrasts with Monica Angle’s spare brush strokes and softer palette that she uses to depict a quieter, more poetic evocation of land and sky.

How artists approach the same subject matter is another thoughtful way to view the work. For example, Carol Siracuse and Catherine Parker depict Buffalo’s grain elevators in vastly different ways. Siracuse precisely renders the entire structure within their surroundings and emphasizes the measured proportions of the buildings and their seemingly pastoral setting alongside the water’s edge. Parker chose to focus on the monumentality of the elevators by painting a skewed perspective from below that nearly fills the frame with just a detail of the silo complex.

It wouldn’t be a quasi-comprehensive watercolor survey if it did not include some work by Charles Burchfield. Two paintings and two drawings by the region’s most famed watercolorist provide a glimpse of two periods of the artist’s work. His diminutive Maple Catching the Glow of Lightning from 1916 illustrates Burchfield’s imaginative stylization of natural phenomenon, and the study Landscape from Hilltop Perspective represents the artist’s kinship to the American Scene painting movement in the 1930s and 1940s.

If this exhibition entices you to see more of the artists work (and it should) there are a number of opportunities to do just that. Currently at the Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State there are exhibitions featuring the work of Ellen Steinfeld and Charles Burchfield. Monica Angle’s recent work is on view now at Meibohm Fine Arts in East Aurora, and Ani Hoover has created a site-specific installation for the small gallery located in the Canisus College Library. More of Hoover’s work can be seen in an upcoming two-person show that opens on May 3 at Indigo Art Gallery on Allen Street, and the Kenan Center in Lockport will present open a retrospective of Margaret Martin’s watercolors beginning May 19.

You will have to hurry to see the very worthwhile Water in Motion: The Watercolor Painting Scene in Western New York at the Meridian West Art Gallery since this compact celebration of watercolor and its practitioners closes on Saturday, May 4.

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