I have a watercolor confession to make. I am not a fan of the accidental made intentional. I like watercolors that are controlled by the artist, rather than the other way around. This makes me picky. Sometimes I'll skip a watercolor exhibit.
But I didn't skip the Mid-Southern Watercolorists' 40th annual juried exhibition at the Arkansas Studies Institute, and I was well rewarded. These artists have won the war with their medium. Dean Mitchell — a great watercolor artist himself whose work can be found at Hearne Fine Art — was the judge, and someone I see eye-to-eye with.
Little Rock artist Jacquelyn Kaucher won the Arvest Bank Gold Award for her large and tricky "Fish," a batiky composition of loosely drawn and tightly composed fishes, with the judicious use of bits of sparkling something representing the glint of scales. It's huge, a scale (no pun intended) not easily achieved in watercolor.
But it was a smaller watercolor by Margaret Harrell of Mountain View that I kept returning to. Harrell uses watercolor like acrylic, overpainting with highlights and using a deft woodcut-like stroke. A man on a horse is passing a building; his reflection in a window precedes him. I'm not horse-crazy, or cowboy-crazy, or cinder-block-building crazy, but I really like this painting.
I'm not sure why a Michigan artist is in the Mid-Southern Watercolorists show, but I was glad to see Fredrick Bidigare's "Bad Girl" (which I believe is erroneously titled "New Day" in the free catalog that comes with the show), a loosely painted and shadowy image of a woman yielding a knife. A block of red in the lower right-hand corner and a jag on her face and the end of the knife are juxtaposed with the otherwise gray and black composition. I love the way Bidigare has painted the girl's arm.
There's not a single random flow of paint in Htun Tin's "Go Hawaiian," a super work of storefronts on a sun-bathed city street; this California artist is as skilled in light, shadow and hard-edge landscape as juror Mitchell.
There are many notable works in the show — Sue Harvey's "Burst of Summer," which escapes the floral genre by shoving the lillies into one corner and letting them trail off into abstracted blooms; Joyce Hartmann's "At the All You Can Eat Buffet," a pen-and-watercolor work in an illustrator's manner; Barbara Edward's "Carolina Wrens," a Diebenkorn-meets-bird done in paint thick enough to scrape; Ron Licklider's "Flapper," a portrait in washes of color. You can preview the work on the MSW website. The images here are cropped versions of the originals. The exhibit will remain at the ASI, 401 President Clinton Ave., through Aug. 28.