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February 11 - 18, 2000

[Art Reviews]

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Water works

Sarah Dyer schemes in color

by Leon Nigrosh

At the First Show Gallery, C.C. Lowell, 258 Park Avenue, Worcester, through February 16.

Painting with watercolors is totally unlike painting with oils, acrylics, or even with tempera, which tend to be opaque and viscous, lending to thick impasto surfaces and impenetrable color. On the other hand, watercolors are just that: pigmented water. Because water is both fluid and transparent, these attributes are highly prized by watercolorists and their admirers. Akin to Japanese sumi-e ink painting, watercolor also leaves little room for error. A moment's hesitation with the brush and the artist is left with an unwanted blotch of color that is nearly impossible to remove or to rectify.

As we look at the 20 watercolor paintings in Sarah K. Dyer's first one-artist exhibit, currently on display at C.C. Lowell First Show Gallery, we can chart the evolution of her work as she delved deeper into the nuances of the elusive medium. Almost everyone learning to paint with watercolors begins with flowers. Starting to paint only four years ago, Dyer has been no exception, as her paintings Frolic and Morning Gossip brightly attest. Sketching the under layout with only the minimum of the lightest pencil strokes, Dyer then lets her deft brushstrokes bring groups of daylilies and daisies to life.

Another, Repose, is a rendition of little more than a stack of small, painted, wooden benches. But here we see how Dyer employs her sense of color to create the shade and shadows that make us view these marks as real objects. Using varicolored tones to simulate shadow, her Fleet's In creates the same illusion of three dimensions, only this time we visit several seagulls frolicking above a small flotilla of skiffs moored in a placid harbor.

Continuing to use light pencil marks to enhance the basic shapes of her compositions, Dyer offers several richly toned landscapes. In both Corkscrew Sanctuary, FL and Winter Solitude she concentrates on the linear aspect of the narrow-stemmed, leafless trees; while her Road to Nichewog is ablaze with the yellow and orange leaves of a fall afternoon, with purple shadows enhancing the deep perspective of the narrow trail that disappears in the distance. Dyer's ability to capitalize on watercolor's transparency is evident in Evening Vista, which captures the dappled light of the sun just before setting and, in Northern Lights, a pastel-toned rendition of the watery lights that surge across a night sky.

The exhibit's strongest works are those that contain architectural subjects. Each of the two views of Stonington, Maine, shows typical New England bungalows and cottages nestled firmly within tree-laden hillsides. The active combination of geometric and organic forms, along with the bright colorations of the detailed buildings, creates a pleasant visual counterpoint within each picture's frame. Bit of Sugar, a snowy, gray/blue scene of an aging sugar house, while well executed like Dyer's other paintings, is the only somber, moody piece. Even the solitary lighthouse in Curtis Light, Camden, ME stands firm and bright atop the snow-covered rocks.

Dyer's most recent works have become abstract in nature, devoid of recognizable subject matter and more in tune with the intrinsic qualities of the medium itself. Concerto is a conglomeration of brush marks that appear as a multitude of rivulets in bright, transparent colors that travel down the page in an extremely busy, but ordered fashion, much like the style of music for which the work is named. Dyer has pulled out all the stops by spreading pools of color across a wet page and letting the pigments merge and mingle at will, creating a vibrant interpretation of the music that inspired this piece -- jazz. Where this new direction will take her, only time will tell.

The gallery is open Monday through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Call 757-7713.


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