New England Painters Bring New Vitality to an Old Art

You’re an art lover, prowling the streets of Boston. Where can you go to find avant-garde abstract work? Where can you find striking photorealist images? Where can you discover contemporary paintings with an emotional impact you never expected? You might stop in at the Guild of Boston Artists (162 Newbury St.) and have a look at the annual Signature Member Show of the New England Watercolor Society. But wait – watercolor? Aren’t those paintings usually wet and misty scenic pastels with soft edges and a moody atmosphere? Not here. The painters of these works are the cream of the crop: each has been juried into at least four selective exhibitions to earn the Society’s top designation. And they treat the watercolor medium in ways you probably never imagined.

Judging by the works in this show, they are an unruly band. There are sharply defined paintings of astonishing precision and there are wild and stormy pieces that nevertheless cohere unexpectedly into images of an eagle or a mountain range. There’s a ghostly scene in which beautiful children step out of a background shrouded in mist, and there’s a face-to-face confrontation with a herd of llamas in, of all places, Addison, Maine. Yes, there are boats, but not the kind you imagine when someone says “watercolor.” One looks as if it had trespassed into a Barnett Newman color field painting; others have brilliant sails that might have been dipped in Klimt’s burnished gold.

Eighty-nine artists from all over New England are represented in the show. All the paintings are for sale, most at prices within reach of art lovers without trust funds. Show chairperson Kristin Stashenko observed, “This show is an extraordinary display of the breadth and versatility of the medium and the technical expertise of the artists. The range of styles from realism to abstract will delight all, from the casual observer to the sophisticated art connoisseur. There is something for everyone!”

This year’s exhibition judge, who chose the paintings for the Society’s prestigious awards, is Michael Holter, a signature member of the American Watercolor Society, the National Watercolor Society, and other national organizations. The exhibit runs until Feb. 25. As part of the society’s commitment to education, award-winning member artists will give free painting demonstrations on weekends.

The society, which  traces its history to 1885 and numbers such figures as John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, Andrew Wyeth, and Ruth Wynn among its past luminaries, today claims nearly 200 signature members and an overall membership of more than 400.

New England Watercolor Society Signature Members Show, Guild of Boston Artists, 162 Newbury St. until Feb. 25, Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sundays noon–4 p.m. Painting demonstrations Sundays 2–4 .pm. Feb. 11 (Irena Roman), 18 (Sally Meding), and 25 (Craig Masten).

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