As Frank Sinatra croons in “My Way,” “What is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught.”
In real life — not the make-believe one of movies, ads and pop music — doing it your way isn’t cool or easy and those who persist fight against a relentless wave of mass media-impelled social conformity that seeks to keep them down, submissive, obedient, boring.
The message is “Do it our way and call it your way.”
Watercolor painter Lisa Hill isn’t interested in that message. As a representational painter of flowers and foliage, she is fully aware of the industrial and urban art world’s decree that representational work is passé, demoded, archaic. What she hears from the “modern” art movement — which, ironically, began in the late 19th century — is that “true artists” focus on abstract.
“I have always been attracted to realistic representational art,” the Richland artist says.
“While I respect and can appreciate the skill and knowledge involved in creating purely abstract or vaguely realistic art, it does not move me.
“And I take exception to negative attitudes and comments about the realistic style I love. It is often described with discouraging and depressing adjectives: belabored, overworked, too technical, muddy, fussy, tight, tedious, photographic, controlled, imitative, copied, conservative, unimaginative, stifled, calculated, rigid, stiff, not ‘fresh.’”
Why not words like meticulous, detail-minded, skillful, precise, accurate, competent, imaginative, energizing, dexterous, proficient, adept, observant and beautiful?
Several years ago, she adds, she found this statement by French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919):
“Why shouldn’t art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world.”
This way of looking at things, she feels, is a timeless one — neither contemporary nor nostalgic, trendy nor outmoded — an attitude that allows freedom of expression for artists to use their creativity in conjunction with their skills and interests, not to mention their maverick personalities.
“I have a lot of plant knowledge and thoroughly enjoy gardening,” Hill says, explaining that, before she turned to art, she spent years working in ornamental horticulture and landscape design.
“It’s natural for me that the subjects I most love to paint are flowers and foliage. I don’t think that I am making a statement by painting these things — I just love them.”
Another thing she really, really loves is the watercolor technique. It is a blend of magic and science, skill with the willingness to play with chance. The medium requires the artist to observe, question, experiment, analyze, examine, speculate, study — in short, do everything you would expect scientists and artists to do.
“Understanding how water behaves puts the artist in charge (mostly) of what happens to the paint on the paper.
“Why do backruns develop? How do I get the paint to spread out and dissipate? Why does this passage look streaked and blotchy when I wanted a smooth wash?
“The answers are almost always related to the water: how much is on the brush, the paper and in the puddle of paint.”
Getting those answers, and thereby achieving success with watercolor techniques, requires a high level of scientific knowledge of the behavior of water.
If she sounds like a teacher, that’s because she is. Ten years ago, Hill and her husband tore the roof off their garage and built a spacious second-level studio complete with bathroom, kitchenette, storage, windows and enough room for four students. She holds regular classes for beginning, intermediate and advanced (“I very specifically do NOT mix beginners with experienced painters if I can help it”) — once a week per class, three hours at a time, over four weeks. Many students return, progressing from beginner to experienced and this keeps her on her toes.
“I have to come up with new, interesting, challenging projects all the time.”
Not that she’s complaining, because, you see, painting itself is new, interesting and challenging. In the world of representational art, there is no limit to the creativity, exploration, inspiration and driving force to learn and see and capture light and color, emotion and movement.
It takes a maverick to understand and do this.
Or, back to Sinatra’s crooning: “I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way.”
Or better yet, in Hill’s own words, “I paint what I want when I’m ready.”