Anderson Turner

Itís bright, colorful and shiny in Canton all winter long! If you, like most residents of Northeast Ohio, find that statement hard to fathom, then I would encourage you to go to the Canton Museum of Art and see Moving Toward the Light, a retrospective of Joseph Raffaelís monumental watercolors.

To call these works impressive is a vast understatement. They represent a mastery of the medium that frankly I find a bit intimidating. If youíve ever used watercolors, you know theyíre difficult to work with. Like digital photography, there is an awful lot of bad watercolor out there, and to come across an artist who has pushed the medium both in style and size is refreshing and exciting.

These things are large, as much as 48 by 95 inches in some cases. They are all well painted and full of motion and color. The show is really like walking through a clinic on how to paint with watercolor. (There are also a few works in oil on canvas mixed in.)

Two pieces that struck me were Le Printemps II and Antibes II. Both paintings feature the same female subject sleeping on a bed. However, they must be from different days, because while the dress is the same, the sheets are different. Also, they are from different times of day, because the light isnít the same.

Itís not the subject of the paintings themselves that strikes you. Rather, itís the fact that here is an image of a woman in a heavily patterned dress lying on a bed, and no detail is lost or muddy. Itís just the opposite; you get a sense of every inch of the scene, including the white cat who is staring out at you in Le Printemps II.

While you see the detail throughout, you are still aware that these pieces have been painted using watercolor. Itís an important thing to note, because having the touch of the artistís hand so evident throughout the show gives you a better and richer understanding of the research that goes into becoming so skillful at using watercolor.

The Permanent Collection of the Canton Museum of Art is focused on American watercolors from the 19th century forward, and contemporary ceramics from the 1950s forward. Itís a niche I was not aware of until I saw this show. It makes an exhibit like this more meaningful and gives a broader understanding of why the museum brought in the show. It should also make you want to revisit the museum to see more of their collection.

I found myself most drawn to Swirling Water. Not only is there richness of color, but you get a great sense of motion and light in this work, featuring a closeup of koi in a pond with leaves on it. There are bubbles and ripples all over the water, and the entire composition helps to transport you to that location. So much so, that you can almost smell the water and feel the breeze and the sun as they interact with the surface.

All of this is done on a grand scale that as a whole is very realistic, but if you were to zero in on a small area, the brush strokes and movement would render the image almost abstract.

To be totally truthful, these pieces donít exactly excite me. I appreciate what Iím seeing, and the skill and the research it takes to make work like this, but the subject matter doesnít get my juices flowing. I also canít stand the artistís tendency to paint a rectangle around the images, essentially framing the work twice. However, just because I have that reaction personally does not mean I would not recommend you go see it.

For one thing, who am I to say what a painting should or shouldnít be about? Thatís up to the individual to decide. Also, I believe anyone who comes to see this show will enjoy it, and take away a both an appreciation for the artist as well as a renewed appreciation for the Canton Museum of Art. In this exhibit we have an opportunity to expand our knowledge and to get out of the winter doldrums. Who wouldnít like that?

Contact Anderson Turner at haturner3@gmail.com.