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Watercolor Society of North Carolina Presents at CCA, Kinston

Exhibits at the Arts Center

Hampton Gallery, From the Director

Watercolor Society of North Carolina
Special Exhibition for Signature Members
The Arts Center (400 North Queen Street, Kinston) is eager to announce this exhibition! The Watercolor Society of North Carolina’s Signature Members are celebrated as the “best of the best.” With this showing, they hope to encourage more watercolorists to join the organization so they too can reach this level of achievement. The WSNC has approximately 100 Signature Members, all of whom have been invited to participate in this exhibition. They have placed no restriction on the year of execution, but have restricted the work to be of water media only. The WSNC is a non-profit art organization whose purpose is to promote watercolor throughout the state and to elevate the standards of excellence in this medium.

What is a “signature member”?  Signature membership is a status which painting organizations award certain members who excel in one way or another, which then allows that member to use the initials after their name in all advertisements of their painting credentials.

For WSNC, from their brochure, “WSNC Signature Membership is merited by members who win two first through fifth place awards in two, separate annual statewide WSNC exhibitions after February 1999.  Effective July 2002, a second method of obtaining Signature Membership is acceptance of an artist’s entry into three separate annual statewide WSNC exhibitions.  Once an artist has begun qualification under either method, membership in WSNC and payment of annual dues must be continuous to be eligible for and retain Signature Membership status.  Only Signature Members are entitled to use the initials “WSNC” after their names on any painting in water media.

Joanna McKethan, SW, WSNC, has two paintings hanging in the Kinston show, the “WSNC Signature Members Exhibit.”

Her first painting, full sheet, is “Paper Trail,” which gathers poignant letters from loved ones in the past and assembles them in random style among hand-made papers with holes in them, and other still-life memorabilia. The written words are only partially readable, some showing through the holes; some unhindered.

Fallen leaves and seedpods are strewn through the other leaves randomly, with as much influence of chiaroscuro as possible to make the fallen leaves lifelike, as though you could pick them up. Some of her artist friend’s tiny paper booklets were used as a model for painting, as well. She met this friend who, like her, spent time at the artist’s retreat at Mt. St. Francis in Indiana, for two weeks several summers, completing works of art. The symbolism of leaf on leaf is patently obvious, so it will not be labored. This painting was shown in Southern Watercolor Society’s show, of which Ms. McKethan is also a signature member.

The rivulets of color represent the passage of life, the seasons; the stamped letters are destinations reached and people find each other who became bearers of my life, the pages overlapping indicate the links in generational chains. The leaves are scarred by their journey, with ragged edges like the edges of handmade (deckled) paper, holes, stains, folded in strange ways when the holder, perhaps in a hurry, creased the paper to fit in a book to save. Though it bears the marks of rough handling, it is intact, sturdy, and still pliable.

The randomness is part of the one-hundred-percent transparent watercolor, collage style look in Ms. McKethan’s work, represented in her second piece as well, “A Rose Is a Rose,” which has a photograph of her mother, and a single rose laid over old, stained, handwritten letters. Although they look like collages, the effect is created entirely with paint. This painting is a sad one, a poetic work on the artist’s mother before she was married. Again, a connection is sought after in this painting of overlapping life elements.

Many of the elements are disguised enough to make the pieces anyone’s story. I have been criticized for that, but I have been criticized for the specificity of the information of others. One of my good friends Sandra Mowery owns a full sheet painting with my ancestry clearly designated in it, right down to my great grandfather’s framed photograph holding the bayoneted rifle in his hand.

“In a sense my history becomes yours when you acquire the painting,” she says, “and the threads of history are passed on.”

Ms. McKethan uses layering as a favorite technique. Layering is a difficult art, she says, since you must leave portions of the paper free of color, all the way down to the very first washes. For vibrancy, she avoids the flushing of the paper with all three primaries as a way to make an all-over grey tone. She prefers to leave the light side only for gold-toned colors (leaving one of the triad out) and a dark side which must contain the blue (and less of any yellow, except for making green. This sharpens contrast when the two meet.

“People forget that grey forms immediately when you have all three colors,” she confides a teaching secret with us. “Used well, one avoids mixing mud, but used poorly, all the colors look alike or end up tired and muddy.”

“Weak, tired and muddy are the only types of bad watercolors,” my Polish watercolor teacher in Munich, Germany, taught me at the outset.

And I agree with him whole-heartedly. I would add, “mud is what you get when you were trying to mix something else.” And I would add, “when you mix the right colors together, if you mix all three, you get a neutral—either a warm neutral or a cold neutral—brown or black, tan or grey. And if I see your mud, I can tell you what color to add right away to pull it back from the mud-puddle and take it any direction you want it to go. If you stick with me a bit longer, I’ll teach you enough about my system of color that you can find the right color yourself.”

She smiled and laid her brush down.

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