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Travel Inspired Art at Dana Tillou Fine Arts
by Gerald Mead
For many, summer is a time for excursions near and far, and for artists who travel, that means a wealth of new environments to inspire them and provide new subjects for their art. With that in mind, the timing is perfect for the thoroughly attractive exhibition currently on view at Dana Tillou Fine Arts titled “The Traveler’s Muse: Journaling Around the World.” The idea for the exhibition began with watercolor painter Julie McIndoo and photographer Catherine Tillou, longtime artist friends who had travelled together. During those trips (among others) they each studiously recorded their daily activity while collecting images and/or sketches documenting their destinations. Looking for fellow artists who also travelled extensively and compiled visual journals to inform their work led them to area watercolorists Mike Killelea and Carol Siracuse.
Viewing the exhibition is somewhat like taking a trip around the world that would include stops in Italy, France, India, Australia, Croatia, Thailand, Cuba and seemingly all points in between. Each of the artists succeeds in capturing the essential qualities of each foreign location they are depicting in their work and that means an abundance of bucolic landscapes, rustic buildings, cultural landmarks, winding streetscapes and local market scenes. Since this is a group exhibition that includes three watercolorists and a photographer, the gallery has wisely opted to give each of the four artists their own wall to allow you to appreciate the unique characteristics of each one’s work. For example, Siracuse—now retired from a longtime career as an architect—employs a precisionist approach to her work and often incorporates black ink drawing in her watercolor paintings to emphasize contours such as those found in building structures. Her panoramic depiction of the receding hills of Scotland perfectly conveys the distinct allure of that unspoiled landscape.
Based on the locales he has painted, Killelea who describes himself as “primarily a plein air painter,” seems to be the most widely travelled of the group. His modestly scaled watercolors, executed on site, are expertly composed and rendered and have a spirit of intimacy about them.
Tillou’s photographs and photo-collages, all resulting from a recent trip to France, provide an ideal counterpoint to the work of the three watercolorists by representing other artistic media that travel informs. While her photographs often concentrate on a single compelling image such as a simple yet dynamic view of coiled rope on the deck of a barge, her collages teem with multiple images that deftly merge architectural forms, signage and other visual textures to collectively signify a particular locale.
A second gallery brings all of the artists work together and this is also a smart move because it provides an opportunity to compare artists’ approaches to the same subject. For example the bold spectrum of color that characterizes McIndoo’s vibrant watercolor titled “Turkish Market” can be found in simpler proportions in Tillou’s photograph of grapes “Burgundy Harvest.”
A unique and particularly welcome aspect of this exhibition is the inclusion of several of the journals that the artists used to document their travels through written descriptions, sketches, small studies and collected ephemera such as ticket stubs or brochures. It is a fascinating exercise to see the visual (and literary) thinking that led to the completed works on view in the exhibition. It provides an exceptional context for the work and also further elucidates the individual differences between the artists. Journals are the place where ideas are captured and formulated, so including them in an exhibition (something that is rarely done) gives viewers a much deeper understanding of an artist’s work and artistic methodology.
So whether or not your travel plans this summer are limited to a “staycation,” go see this exhibition before it closes on June 28 and take a very enjoyable trip around the globe. You’ll be glad you did.
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