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Translucent Brush Strokes

Art Preview

Mar. 19, 2008
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Abrushstroke of translucent color over pure white paper often defines a watercolor painting. Sometimes the resulting image is wet and spontaneous; other times contained and structured. You can see a variety of results from this demanding medium as two exhibits highlight watercolor artists in Milwaukee this month.

In “A Survey: Drawings and Paintings by John Wickenberg,” which opens March 19, the Charles Allis Art Museum presents an award-winner from the 2005 Forward Survey of Wisconsin Art NOW. In addition to exhibiting his art both regionally and nationally since 1967, Wickenberg achieved professor emeritus status at UW-Whitewater. The current exhibition displays 35 pieces, primarily watercolor and gouache paintings alongside delicate drawings in silverpoint and graphite from the last 20 years of his artistic career.

Wickenberg’s images, which often depict a dried or decaying presence, develop themes of nature by creating minimalist still lifes and landscapes in tranquil compositions. Contrary to common watercolor technique, where the white paper becomes inherent to the painting, Wickenberg’s black backgrounds capture an opaque void where his plants, nests and wreaths merely exist in silence, isolated from outside life that could disturb their elegant yet fragile calm.

Even within these black surroundings, several paintings suggest a playful peace, such as Seven Gourds. In this picture, one round gourd delightfully dangles from the upper borders of the paper, seemingly teasing the twisted stems and curved shapes of the six remaining gourds below. Wickenberg’s somber Still Life with Skull draws a shelf of gray wood to uphold a lone animal skull, a blue marble and a Chinese lantern’s shriveled blossom. Both paintings execute the precise details of the natural world in muted colors to inhabit the abyss of dark space in the background.

LaurelTurner, curator at the Charles Allis Art Museum, says Wickenberg’s pictures “impress upon you the importance of simplicity and sense of composition.’’ A reception on Wednesday, March 19, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., opens the exhibit, which lasts through May 18.

Wickenberg also contributes to Racine’s annual “Watercolor Wisconsin” exhibit at the Charles A. Wustum Museum of Fine Arts, where he has claimed multiple honors over the years.

Another exceptional group of watercolor artists, the Wisconsin Watercolor Society, hosts a spring exhibit in the Suckow Family Art Gallery at the Schauer Arts Center in Hartford, March 22-May 11. This artistic society originated in 1952 with eight watercolor artists from Wisconsin universities and colleges dedicated to encouraging talent and knowledge in this appealing medium. Founding painters included Earl Gessert and EmilyGroom.

Today there are more than 100 members of the organization, which requires a formal portfolio and application for admittance. In this first of two annual exhibitions, more than 40 members will display 64 paintings showcasing the Wisconsin Watercolor Society. A gallery reception acknowledging these artists begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 30, to celebrate the art of watercolor.


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