Here's What Others Are Saying
The 60wrds/min Art Critic
Chicago Tribune Columnist
Though his name bespeaks English rivers, Avon Waters paints like a Frenchman come to the rural loveliness of Midwestern America. Which Frenchman? Think late Matisse, the one of fading eyesight and watery gardens; plus Odilon Redon, though backgrounds only; and perhaps also the Fauves, but just for the wild colors, not the heavy outlines. Working with pastel, often outdoors, and under the influence of harmonious musical and natural sounds, Waters creates lush landscapes that verge into abstraction then veer back into more recognizable territory. Like his art historical predecessors, he has a knack for finding the colors in forests and ponds that most of us fail to see--pinks and lilacs, indigos and turquoises, even neon orange and lime green. If that sounds less than picturesque, it isn't, indeed it is unfailingly beautiful, a quality which Waters amplifies by leaving out the one element that nearly always mucks up the scenery: Humans.
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Rhode Island School of Art and Design
Adjunct Professor and creator, Art Prof.
ESSAY BY ROSA JH BERLAND
A Painter of the American Experience and Place
“Waters’ unique treatment of the natural world in part draws upon the evocation of the sublimity as seen in the work of nineteenth century and early twentieth century American Tonalists. As well, the artist’s practice must be understood in the context of symbolic traditions of American landscape painting, particularly in the return to native landscape as a place of not only respite but also splendour, as well as an expression of American identity. “
Landscape can be understood as an expression of many things — subjective experience, national identity, allegory, a place of contemplation and respite, and even the sublime. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that landscape is an enduring genre in the history of American art. American painter Avon Waters’ uniquely evocative pictures of atmospheric landscape suggest the vagaries of imagination, revealing moments lost in nature’s light and shadow and magnificent color.
The artist’s process includes using music as a starting point, listening to generate gestural and abstract images and forms in sketchbooks. These patterns sometimes become notan designs followed by oil paintings and or pastel drawings, described as “made up worlds in response to an auditory art of others.” This symbiotic relationship reflects the depth of Waters’ work and sources, this way of moving back and forth between the experience of working in the studio, of solitude and as well never relinquishing ties to the history of painting, of technique, of landscape and regional Indiana.
Conversely, in Waters’ gestural abstract work, constellations of paint create expanses of expressive and dynamic color, allowing a new entirely conjured and imagined world or topography to emerge within the plane of the picture. In both genres, the primacy of the artist’s vision and process take center stage.
The Landscape Series: A Place of Quiet History
Waters’ subjects are pastoral landscapes, views of trees, rolling hills, vignettes of hidden spaces in the forest and mid-western vista. Youthful days spent exploring the landscape of rural Indiana has translated to a deeply felt and significant relationship with nature. Indeed, Water’s connection to local environs means that the imagery of the natural world emerges from the abstract sketchbook drawings. “I am the product of living five miles from an Indiana woodlands reserve and recreation area. I spent all my free time climbing through the hills, wading in the limestone bottomed streams and sitting on downed logs and boulders just listening to nature….”
Waters’ Neo-Tonalist oil paintings and pastel landscape works are comprised of a series of studies of places and scenes rendered in different angles, hues, light and perspective. Color seems to breath and denote a sense of shadow and sunlight, elemental solitude and changing weather patterns, the quietude of foliage in shifting light. The artist uses rich areas of color to denote shadow, punctuated by areas of light and sfumato. From these contrasts emerges a moment of experience laid out in paint, light and a shifting sense of weather.
In some pictures, there is a sense of the preternatural, the shifting misty luminosities of darkness and areas of high-keyed light, the omission and suggestion of form are transformed into a dance of enigmatic beauty. In the often-mystical landscapes, understated color is paired with contrasting areas, creating a balance of surface, brushwork, and moving elemental nature. We intuitively feel and see vapor, mist, rain, clouds, sun and wind.
The Abstract Compositions
Intuition also plays a key role in the creation of Waters’ purely abstract works. In this series, we see an emphasis on spontaneity and fields of bright color. Bold spattered paint, brushwork and mark making create a sense of improvisation. In turn, this approach relates the artist’s practice to that of twentieth century Abstract Expressionism.
The abstract works have an energetic power, expressive of the process of painting with a direct approach to mark making. Eschewed are the muted tones of the neo-tonalist landscapes of suggestion, imagination and mysticism. Here, we find a refusal to limit palette or the presence of the brush or application of paint. The artist notes: “stand-alone abstracts are a way to let out pent up energy and frustrations. Most are high energy creations where paint is flung, canvases stabbed at, or with pastels —sticks explode in my hand as I strike surfaces. Abstracts are a diversion when too many elements of humanity begin to close in on me and the tonalist works no longer let me escape into the fantasy worlds I create.” As such, these works shares with the landscape series a commitment to the concept of painting as a way to create a universal pictorial experience through subjective expression.
Furthermore, the two bodies of work are related in the sense that Waters’ practice seems free from the idea of hierarchies contemporary art. The artist is instead focused on the intricacies of process, of the experience of making work, of painting that which is not fully represented, but is felt by the maker and the viewer. This is a place of ephemeral light and shifting patterns of color only found below the branches of trees, and next to waterways of our back country, muted memories of sublime American land.
This evocation continues in the abstract pictures which contain an entirely distinctive vocabulary of gesture and mark making — a phenomena described by Harold Rosenberg as “not a picture but an event.” Indeed, it is these deeply subjective yet stirring pictorial spaces that make Water’s painting so enigmatically subjective and universal.
Waters remains a resolutely American painter. In the landscape series the subject matter is primarily regional, carrying on the tradition of mid-western regionalism, and the elegiac American landscape through an evocation of the transcendental as embodied in the writing and ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson and the American Tonalist painters. Furthermore, in Waters’ non-representational work there is an embracing of the key tradition of gestural American Abstract Expressionist emphasizing the primacy of the act of making and the genre of non narratival painting. Waters synthesizes intuitive and universal sensibilities and yet, in both the abstract compositions and the landscape studies such complexity and sensitivity is balanced by a sumptuous treatment of hues; the form and movement articulated in completely different styles. Within this convergence of history, painterly experimentation, and subjective imagination of artistic license, Waters has created an oeuvre of great expressive power of a universal experience at the center of which lies two viewpoints: that of the artist and the viewer.
Rosa JH Berland
Rosa JH Berland is an art historian and curator with a special interest in American modernism. Berland holds her MA, Fine Art History, University of Toronto and has published widely on topics concerning modern and contemporary art in peer reviewed journals, academic collections, and museum publications. She serves as the Honorary Director and Curator of The Edward E. Boccia Artist Trust and the Curator of The Objects Foundation. Berland has held curatorial and exhibitions positions at The Museum of Modern Art, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and The Frick Collection, New York.