A Brush with Success

Athena Gracyk of Moorhead, president of the Red River Watercolor Society, says the Hjemkomst Center is the perfect setting for the 160-member group’s 26th annual national exhibition. Lisa Cook chairs the ambitious show, which opens Monday, June 17. (Photo/Russ Hanson)

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

It’s that time of year again: the time when hundreds of watercolor artists from across the country and look to Moorhead for good news.
The 26th annual Red River Watercolor Exhibition opens Monday at the Hjemkomst Center, revealing the results that entrants await so breathlessly. Well-known artist and illustrator Iain Murray arrives this weekend from Opalika, Alabama, to judge the best of the best. Earlier this spring, he chose what he considers the 48 most interesting works among the vast field of entries submitted online from near and far. He’ll spend Sunday choosing seven medalists and five honorable mentions, to be unveiled when the exhibit opens Monday, June 17. The juror will speak at the opening reception Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m.
Watercolor Society president Athena Gracyk lauds the juror’s sense of light value and colors in his paintings, which include a preponderance of cityscapes. Murray is a member of both the American and the National Watercolor Societies, earning signature status in both. “That means his paintings have been chosen at least three times in exhibitions sponsored by each of them,” she explains. The honor permits him to use the groups’ initials when he signs his works.
Murray will offer intense instruction for local artists in a week-long all-day workshop Monday through Friday. (Registration information is available at redriverws.org/Wordpress/workshops.) He writes, “This will be a studio workshop where I introduce my techniques and then reinforce them by incorporating them in my demos. We focus on types of wash used, different brush strokes, wet in wet work, and using a graphite study to organize and plan the composition. I also work in the sketchbook showing how I travel and use it when I am trying to capture those travels in a non-easel environment. Most importantly I focus on helping the group relax and paint from a place of peace rather than get caught up in their performance during a workshop. My goal is to give them techniques they can build on in the future and not letting things get too precious before they deserve it. I say ‘it’s just a piece of paper’ quite a bit.”
Helping artists explore techniques was behind formation of the Red River Watercolor Society 30 years ago. Begun by 13 local artists, the group today has 180 members – two-thirds of them, Athena points out, from outside the immediate area. Most join in connection with the annual exhibition. The group was formed, according to its website, to accommodate those who paint in watercolor and acrylic media. The president defines it more specifically, quoting the rules of the show – “water media, inclugin transparent and staining watercolors, gouache, water-based inks and acrylic applied to paper.”

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