In 2012, Kay Russell’s “Hat I/Rain” won the Triton Museum of Art’s Statewide Watercolor Competition and Exhibition. “Hat I/Rain,” a watercolor painting of an old fashioned hat with frayed and worn feathers against a blue and pink background that is splattered with water streaks, was something the judges hadn’t seen before and stood out among the sea of submissions. As the grand prize winner, Russell received a solo show at the museum.
On Dec. 7, Russell’s solo exhibition, “Recollections” was put on display. The show, which runs through Feb. 9, includes “Hat I/Rain,” and is a collection of, according to the Triton’s website, “images of memory, artifacts of a familiar past, and scenes of remembered nature.”
When Russell began her rain series she painted the image first and then poured, drizzled and dripped gouache over the top of the image, adding and subtracting from her piece until it felt complete. But recently, she began utilizing a different approach to her watercolor monotype backgrounds, which contain several watercolor layers. “The papers are prepared by printing three to five layers of paint/texture, one color at a time,” reads a plaque in the exhibit. “Each layer is rolled onto a piece of plexiglass, which has been covered with gum Arabic and allowed to dry. The gum Arabic allows the paint to adhere to the plate. Damp paper (a variety of choices) is placed on the plate and rolled through a printing press. Once the paper is dry, the process is repeated. The results range from wonderful to disappointing, but always produce a surface full of surprises. Often the papers are made without knowing what image will follow.” A sampling of some of these backgrounds is found in the museum’s rotunda.
One of the things Russell tries to convey is the essence of atmosphere. “I found that in doing ‘rain’ paintings of places and things that I found meaningful, I was closer to portraying their presence (rather than pictorial likeness),” reads her website. “In those paintings, it is intentionally unclear whether you are in the rain, looking out at the rain, or remembering it. The landscapes turned into objects. Most recently, rain accompanies images of my mother’s old hats, evening bags, family mementos, and personal treasures. The spirit of the object is reverent, whimsical, and often melancholy. And, it is not always raining.”
The images spark memories within the viewer as well. The hats and handbags particularly can call to mind a mother or grandmother’s favorite accessory. Or, like the Triton’s website explains, “a can that once adorned a desk in the family home suggests hidden treasures eagerly explored by a child. These are the recollections of an artist, but they suggest the types of memories we each hold dear, and as such the paintings act as a springboard for our own musings in our pasts, islands of remembrance, and the small familiar objects that hold so much meaning to us.”
Visit www.tritonmuseum.org for more information.