Los Angeles

42nd Annual California Watercolor Society

Long Beach Museum of Art

After decades of wash, wet-into-wet and drybrush doctrinaire, after years of “bold brush” (never bold artist) tech­niques, and after being suffocated if not drowned in a limpid pool of studied transparency, it is both easy and proper to grow nauseous at the thought of fac­ing again one single California water­color, and paralyzing to think of con­fronting seventy-six of them. But the California watercolor has changed. It is neither Californian in nature nor trans­parent in concept. (Some have argued that it is not even watercolor: the ma­jority are casein, many are pastel, sev­eral are collage and three are trans­parent.) Perhaps this is why the 42nd Annual is the most vital in memory. It seems that what mattered to the so­ciety was not the medium but the paint­ing. (It may also have mattered that $2,450.00 as offered in prizes, al­though one could grow nauseous at this thought also.)

The size of the prize money was al­most matched by the size of the jury. There is always safety in numbers––if safety is what you want. Surprisingly, the five-man jury managed to select a relatively coherent show, with most prize selections remaining publicly defensible. Walter Askin’s I_carian Passage_ took First Purchase Prize of $500.00. Worked almost entirely in pastel, it is an “appro­priate” picture for top money (report­edly “the largest award for watercolor in the county”). Askin is a knowledge­able painter, if not yet a confident one. His romantic space is articulated with understanding, floating behind and around sharp, hot, advancing color areas. Nevertheless, wings and other bits of anatomical abstraction (a la earlier de Kooning) are weakened by an impersonal taste. In short, Askin has not yet made the lcarian myth his own.

Douglass Parshall received $350.00 for a sincere, tentative Sculptured Cliff, a visually weak but perversely ingratiat­ ing ink and wash. Hans Burkhardt’s Germanic obsession with death and transfiguration continues unabated. His Crown of Thorns is a stronger-than­-usual “late Cubist” construction worked entirely in pastel. It deserved its $300.00 award. Yet Burkhardt’s private struggle with the enemy in his breast (his own style?) still conflicts with arbitrary habits of structure. Content is caged in form instead of being released by it. The crown of thorns ends up looking like a Prussian helmet. Another deserved $300.00 award went to Gerd Koch for his sprightly A Tale of Trees. This is an easy-going, non-grasping kind of cal­ligraphy rare in a Western artist. Even Mark Tobey has never achieved such “careless care.” The landscape, the painted suface and the artist all breathe evenly, without the slightest choke or cough over structure or concept. Not facile but relaxed, Koch’s mind and brush do not wobble between alterna­tives. His attitude is one of purposeless growth in which there are no short cuts because every stage of the way is both beginning and end. Koch has achieved a calm, personal plateau from which to view his Ojai landscape. The remaining largesse was lavishly distributed in vari­ous amounts to Jerome Land, Paul Dar­row, Jean Pinataro, Glen Brad Shaw, Louise Preeman, Jay Meuser, Alexander Nepote and Evelyn Carpenter. Northern Californians will be offered the chance to test their survival techniques when the exhibition opens at the Richmond Art Center in January. 

Vic Smith