About Paul Pitsker

My watercolor paintings combine the tradition of still life with narrative elements exploring themes of confinement, thwarted yearning and looming disaster, subjects that are now too familiar to all of us whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. My interest is in "delicate subjects," a term meant not just literally as it applies to insect wings and glassware, but also figuratively, as in a contemplation of the fragility of life or the inevitability of darkness, ideas we usually avoid confronting on a more than occasional basis. My goal is to evoke an atmosphere of disquiet and a sense that the answers to life's most urgent questions might be hidden in plain sight and yet remain unreadable.

Watercolor has a reputation for being unforgiving -- the paint is translucent and the paper is absorbent, so marks made at any point during the process are likely to remain visible in the final result. So, each watercolor painting is a kind of performance, like a music recital where you can’t take back the sounds you make... You can only add to them. One of my goals with the medium has been to make paintings that don’t look like traditional watercolors. To this end, I use fine-grained staining pigments, smooth paper, and for the most part I avoid splashy wet-in-wet effects and grainy, sedimentary textures.

I have often used an intensely opaque black watercolor pigment (iron oxide) in my backgrounds for maximum contrast, but I have also experimented recently with selectively applying watercolor paint to a masked sheet of paper via a marbling technique adapted from methods dating back to 16th century Persia and the Ottoman Empire, which in turn may have arisen from an even older sumi ink marbling tradition originating in feudal Japan. The resulting swirling patterns of watercolor paint in the background echo the delicate structures of butterfly wings, bird feathers, leaves or flowers that I render with traditional watercolor brush techniques in other areas after the masking is removed. The combined result is easily mistaken for collage, but in fact each hybrid painting is just watercolor laid down on a single sheet of paper, combining Eastern with Western traditions of paint application, fortuitous chance with deliberate planning, and the complex interactions of surface tension and fluid dynamics with the meticulous rendering by hand and brush of similarly complex natural forms.

Realistic watercolor
Blinds, 2013, 25 x 18 in., realistic fiction in watercolor

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